Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) Degree Programs Online

While there are entry-level jobs that call for a bachelor’s degree in social work, there are other social worker positions, like licensed roles and teaching careers that require a master’s or postgraduate degree like a Doctor of Social Work (DSW). If you’re interested in earning a DSW but are unable to fit on-campus classes into your daily schedule, consider schools with degree programs online. Learn about some options in the next few paragraphs, as well as the career choices that come with this degree.

What Is a DSW Degree?

A DSW degree is a postgraduate program that enables social workers to gain advanced understanding in areas such as research, supervision, and policy analysis. Not to be confused with a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work, which prepares students for careers in research, training, and policy development, the DSW degree is designed to prepare students to work as administrators, trainers, evaluators and assume other leadership roles within various settings. Some common workplaces include social work agencies and healthcare offices/ organizations. 

DSW programs are typically structured to teach students how to conduct research as well as gaining a deep understanding of the clinical social work field. If you’re more interested in research than working in a clinical environment, there are DSW programs that provide the foundational knowledge for a future in research.

Sponsored Online DSW Program

Online Doctorate of Social Work From Top-Ranked USC1

Designed to prepare professionals to address social issues, top-ranked USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work’s online Doctorate of Social Work program can be completed through an accelerated 28 month track.

1U.S. News & World Report – Best Schools for Social Work

Sponsored Online DSW Program

Doctorate of Social Work Online From the Nation’s First School of Clinical Social Work

Simmons University offers an online Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) — MSW required; no GRE required. The program prepares you to become a well-rounded scholar-practitioner through a curriculum focused on three key areas: inclusive leadership, advanced clinical practice, and teaching and education.

Online DSW Degree Programs 

Online DSW degrees may allow students to access a wide range of well-known institutions of higher learning. An online DSW degree typically takes about three years to complete and may require a master of social work (MSW) for admissions. 

Here is a list of all online Doctorate of Social Work programs:

University Location Length of Program GPA and GRE Requirements
Barry University Miami Shores, FL 3 Years
  • Minimum GPA of 3.5
  • GPA Between 3.3 and 3.49 Considered on Individual Basis
  • No GRE Required
Capella University Minneapolis, MN 4-5 Years
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • No GRE Required
Kutztown University Kutztown, PA 3 Years No GRE Required
Simmons University Sponsored Program Boston, MA Complete the program full time in less than two years or part time in less than three years.
  • No GRE Required
  • GPA of at least 3.0 or higher in MSW coursework
Southern Connecticut State University New Haven, CT 3 Years
  • Minimum Undergraduate GPA of 2.5
  • Minimum Graduate GPA of 3.0
Tulane University New Orleans, LA 3 Years Minimum GPA of 3.3
University at Buffalo – The State University of New York Buffalo, NY 3 Years GRE Required
University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL 3 Years
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • No GRE Required
University of Kentucky Lexington, KY 2-3 Years Minimum GPA of 3.0
University of Pennsylvania Pennsylvania, PA 2-3 Years No GRE Required
University of Tennessee Knoxville, TN 3 Years
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • GRE Required
University of Southern California (USC)
Sponsored Program
Los Angeles, CA
  • Accelerated Track: 28 Months
  • Standard Track: 36 Months
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • No GRE Required
University of St. Thomas St. Paul, MN 3 Years Minimum GPA of 3.0
Walden University Minneapolis, MN 2.5 Years N/A

This table was last updated in April 2021. For the most up-to-date information, visit the university’s website.

Barry University – School of Social Work

Program Name: Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) Degree Online at Barry University 
Program Length: 3 Years, Part-Time, 48 Minimum Credits
Specializations: Focus on trauma-informed clinical practice
Admissions Requirements:

  • MSW from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Three years of post-master’s experience
  • Minimum GPA of 3.5
  • Academic transcripts from all previously attended institutions
  • Three letters of reference
  • Personal narrative
  • Resume

DSW Program Description:
The online DSW at Barry University is a 48 credit post-graduate program focused on trauma-informed clinical practice with two 20-hour residencies. Students are required to be enrolled in at least six credits each semester, where each online course is eight weeks in length. Time to complete the program is three years.

Capella University

Program Name: Doctor of Social Work (DSW) Program Online at Capella University 
Program Length: 4-5 Years, Part-Time, 62 Coursework Credits
Specializations: None
Admissions Requirements:

  • Master’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Official master’s transcripts
  • Minimum average 3.0 GPA in master’s coursework

DSW Program Description:
Capella University offers an online DSW program that was designed to meet guidelines of the CSWE. All social work faculty members have earned a doctoral degree and have actively engaged in their professions. There are 14 core courses with two residencies and a capstone.

Kutztown University – Department of Social Work

Program Name: Doctor of Social Work (DSW) Program Online at Kutztown University 
Program Length: 3 Years, Part-Time, 48 Credits
Specializations: Focus on leadership and education
Admissions Requirements:

  • MSW degree from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Transcripts from all previously attended universities or college
  • Two years of post-MSW experience
  • Resume
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Five-page statement addressing current knowledge of social work
  • Three-page personal statement

DSW Program Description:
The DSW program at Kutztown University is designed in partnership with Millersville University for working professionals in mind. With a focus on leadership and education, the DSW online program is a part-time degree with two courses per session. Online instruction follows cohort learning models with a residency once per session.

Simmons University – School of Social Work – Sponsored Program

Program Name: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) Program
Program Length: Complete the program full time in less than two years or part time in less than three years.
Specializations: Curriculum focused on three key areas: inclusive leadership, advanced clinical practice and teaching and education
Admissions Requirements:

  • Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from a CSWE-accredited institution
  • GPA of at least 3.0 or higher in their MSW coursework
  • Two years of relevant practice experience following the completion of their MSW preferred

DSW Program Description:
Simmons University offers an online Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) — MSW required; no GRE required. The program prepares you to become a well-rounded scholar-practitioner through a curriculum focused on three key areas: inclusive leadership, advanced clinical practice and teaching and education.

Southern Connecticut State University – Department of Social Work

Program Name: Doctor of Social Work (DSW) Program Online at Southern Connecticut State University 
Program Length: 3 Years, Part-Time, 48 Credits
Specializations: Capstone focus on: advanced clinical practice, university teaching or leadership and management
Admissions Requirements:

  • MSW degree from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Minimum 3.0 undergraduate and graduate GPA
  • Three years of post-MSW social work practice experience
  • 4–5 page essay
  • Transcripts from all previously attended universities
  • Resume
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement

DSW Program Description:
The online DSW program at SCSU requires a self-designed externship of 240 hours and a capstone project focused in one of the specializations above. There are two courses per semester over summer, fall and spring. Coursework in the summer also requires a five-day residency per course.

Tulane University – School of Social Work

Program Name: Doctor of Social Work (DSW) Online Degree Program at Tulane University 
Program Length: 3 Years, Full-Time, 54 Credits
Specializations: None
Admissions Requirements:

  • MSW degree from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Minimum 3.3 undergraduate and graduate GPA
  • Three or more years of experience at a social service agency or equivalent post-master’s experience
  • Personal statement
  • Resume
  • Transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Optional copies of research or publications
  • Optional professional or academic writing sample

DSW Program Description:
At Tulane University, the online DSW is focused on preparing social workers for executive-level positions via a curriculum focused on critical thinking skills tied to designing, evaluating and implementing programs and policies. As a part of the DSW program, students in Tulane’s program are required to attend an immersion weekend in New Orleans.

University at Buffalo – School of Social Work

Program Name: Online Doctor of Social Work (DSW) at the University at Buffalo 
Program Length: 3 Years, Part-Time, 39 Credits
Specializations: Focus on trauma-informed and human rights perspective
Admissions Requirements:

  • MSW from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Prefered 3.0 GPA from undergraduate and graduate programs
  • Three years of post-MSW experience
  • Valid and active social work license, certification or registration
  • Three recommendations
  • Transcripts
  • Resume
  • Personal statement
  • Academic writing sample

DSW Program Description:
The online 39-credit DSW program from the University at Buffalo focuses on trauma-informed and human rights practice for current licensed social workers. As a part of the capstone project, students are required to have access to a targeted client population. There is a mandatory on-campus orientation in August before the start of the program. 

University of Alabama – College of Continuing Studies

Program Name: Doctor of Social Work (DSW) Degree Program Online at the University of Alabama 
Program Length: 3 Years, 45 Credit Hours
Specializations: Clinical or Organizational Leadership
Admissions Requirements:

  • MSW degree from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Minimum 3.0 graduate GPA
  • Three years of post-MSW program experience
  • Statement of purpose
  • Current social work placement
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Transcripts
  • Resume

DSW Program Description:
In three years, social workers can earn their DSW degree online at the University of Alabama with a focus in clinical practice or organizational leadership. There are 21 core credits with six credits of elective and 18 credits in your specialization. An on-campus orientation is required before the start of your program in addition to 4–5 day visits each summer to The University of Alabama’s Tuscaloosa campus throughout the DSW program.

University of Kentucky – College of Social Work

Program Name: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) Online at the University of Kentucky 
Program Length: 2–3 Years, Full-Time or Part-Time, 42 Credit Hours
Specializations: Advanced Clinical Practice, Administrative Leadership or Military Behavioral Health
Admissions Requirements:

  • MSW from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Two years of social work/human service practice experience—post-MSW is strongly encouraged
  • Two reference letters
  • Personal statement
  • Resume
  • Unofficial transcripts from all previous academic work

DSW Program Description:
The DSW program online at the University of Kentucky is an asynchronous program with a residency week in the summer. After completing core curriculum, students may choose one of three concentrations: administrative leadership, clinical social work or military behavioral health. The DSW program can be completed as a full-time or part-time student.

University of Pennsylvania – College of Social Work

Program Name: Doctorate in Clinical Social Work (DSW) Online Program at the University of Pennsylvania 
Program Length: 2–3 Years, Full-Time
Specializations: Clinical Social Work
Admissions Requirements:

  • MSW from an accredited program
  • Three years post-MSW practice experience
  • Three letters of reference
  • Sample of written work
  • Application essay

DSW Program Description:
The online clinical social work DSW program at the University of Pennsylvania can be completed in 2–3 years and is considered a full-time program. There are two 5-day residencies for UPenn DSW students, once at the start of the fall semester and another in the summer following their first year. The online coursework is synchronous, meaning that students in this DSW program log on for two hours twice a week to meet with the rest of the class.

University of Southern California (USC) – Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work – Sponsored Program

Program Name: Online Doctorate of Social Work Program
Program Length: Accelerated Track: 28 Months; Standard Track: 36 Months
Specializations: Coursework focused on three areas: problem definition within the grand challenges for social work, innovative design or executive leadership in human service organizations and community contexts
Admissions Requirements:

  • MSW from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)–accredited program, any master’s degree from a regionally accredited program or any professional doctorate
  • Five years of professional employment experience is strongly preferred
  • Resume
  • Writing prompts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts

DSW Program Description:

The online Doctorate of Social Work program from top-ranked USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work1 prepares professionals from a variety of fields to develop solutions to real-world problems affecting populations worldwide such as homelessness, poverty and domestic violence. Students can complete the program though a 28-month accelerated program or 36-month standard program.

1U.S. News & World Report – Best Schools for Social Work

University of St. Thomas – School of Social Work

Program Name: Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) Online at the University of St. Thomas 
Program Length: 3 Years, 45 Semester Credits
Specializations: Focus on preparing social work faculty for university-level teaching and leadership in colleges and universities
Admissions Requirements:

  • MSW from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Minimum of two years post-MSW social work practice experience
  • Previous teaching experience in higher education strongly preferred
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0 for all previous graduate work
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Writing sample
  • Personal statement

DSW Program Description:
The University of St. Thomas’ online DSW program helps prepare social workers to become university-level faculty and leaders in their university communities. Comprised of 45 semester credits, this DSW program offers coursework focused on curriculum development, history of social work education and pedagogy in social work education. There are on-campus visits required each summer that last two weeks in St. Paul, MN.

University of Tennessee – College of Social Work

Program Name: Doctor of Social Work (DSW) Degree in Clinical Practice and Leadership Online 
Program Length: 3 Years, 48 Credits
Specializations: Clinical Practice and Leadership
Admissions Requirements:

  • MSW from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Three years post-MSSW/MSW clinical practice experience
  • Minimum 3.0 GPA for previous graduate work
  • GRE scores
  • Transcripts
  • Names of three references

DSW Program Description:
The online DSW at the University of Tennessee consists of two courses per semester across eight continuous semesters. Courses are taught via synchronous and asynchronous formats. On-campus visits are required once each summer. Curriculum for this DSW program online is focused on evidence-based practice, clinical leadership, clinical science and applied research.

Walden University – School of Social Work

Program Name: Doctor of Social Work (DSW) Program Online at Walden University 
Program Length: 3 Years, 45 Semester Credits
Specializations: Addictions and Social Work; Clinical Expertise; Criminal Justice; Disaster, Crisis and Intervention; Family Studies and Intervention; Medical Social Work; Policy Practice or Social Work Administration
Admissions Requirements:

  • Master of Social Work (MSW degree)
  • Two years of post-MSW practice experience within the last five years
  • Resume
  • Transcripts

DSW Program Description:
The online DSW at Walden University offers eight different concentrations and requires students to attend a four-day residency that focuses on seminars and small groups. The DSW program consists of 58 credits with a capstone research project of five credits per term, for a minimum of four terms, until completed.

What to Expect from a DSW Program?

DSW programs vary by school, but they can share some similarities when it comes to what is required of an applicant and what topics are covered in class. Learn more about education requirements and curriculum below.

Education Requirements  

When applying for a DSW program, previous knowledge within the social work field is often required, such as a master’s in social work. However, some universities accept students with a master’s degree in a closely related field like counseling psychology. Be sure to check the individual school you are applying to for more information about DSW degree requirements. 

Admissions requirements will likely vary by program. Some programs require a specific GPA, while others do not list those requirements. Others require a GRE to have been completed within the last five years prior to application. Letters of recommendation and personal statements are often required as a testament to your ability on quality work and dedication to social work practice.

Curriculum 

Like education requirements, the DSW curriculum does vary between programs. The variety of the social work curriculum aims to provide you with a deeper dive into leadership/managerial material and skills that will help you within their chosen career after graduation. Courses may cover the following topics:

  • Data-Driven Decision Making. Development, implementation, and management of change through data collection and analysis.
  • Organizational Leadership. Understanding how organizations work and how organizational change is facilitated.
  • Innovation and Change. Study of cutting-edge transformative thinking and change-management research to predict community needs.
  • Leading Public Discourse. Development of new perspectives in the public realm to better benefit communities.


If you’re pursuing a DSW, then it’s likely that you’ve identified an area of social work that interests or drives you. Some DSW programs offer concentrations like Social Welfare, Clinical Practice and Leadership or even Criminal Justice or Medical Social Work.

What Can You Do with a Doctorate of Social Work? 

Social work has a wide variety of careers and salary ranges. Make sure that you have the minimum educational requirements and the correct licensure to be considered for your desired position. Certain social work positions require an LCSW license, while others may require a DSW, such as post secondary instruction. Upon graduating with a DSW, you may pursue a number of careers, such as the following: 

  • Advanced Practice Social Worker. This professional often specializes in specific practice areas and may consult or supervise other social work professionals. They may work to set policy at local or national levels, or work in education. They are qualified to practice independently and make referrals to other specialists.
  • Child Welfare Permanency Worker. This professional is also known as an adoption worker. Their job is to evaluate potential homes for children who are in foster care or state supervision. They also assist with the child’s transition into the home and referrals for post-adoptive care.
  • Nonprofit Director. This professional oversees direction of a social service nonprofit. This includes legal, financial, program, and management oversight. The nonprofit director often reports to a board of directors.
  • Professor of Social Work. This professional teaches and performs research in social work courses at a college or university. A social work professor may kick off their career at the assistant professor level but may be considered for tenure track at some institutions.
  • School Social Worker. This professional collaborates with teachers and staff at elementary or high schools to help remove barriers to education and address issues in and out of the school environment that may impact students’ well-being. Learn more on how to become a school social worker.
  • Social & Community Service Manager. This professional plans, directs or coordinates the activities of a social service program or community outreach organization. They also oversee the program or organization’s budget and policies regarding participant involvement, program requirements, and benefits.

Social Work Administrator. This professional directs a social service agency or health agency at a local, state, or national level. They set the agency’s budget and program development policy and oversee management. Learn more on how to become a social work administrator.

DSW Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual pay for social workers in 2020 was $51,760, with the highest 10 percent of workers earning salaries of more than $85,820 per year. The median annual salary for postsecondary social work teachers in 2020 was $71,570, according to the BLS.

Earning potential will vary since social work salaries usually depend on employer, location, job title, years of experience, education level and other factors. Earning an advanced degree in social work takes many years of training and sacrifice.

Benefits of a DSW Degree 

While a DSW is not a general requirement to practice in the field, it is often considered a sign of improvement upon the standard level of education earned by most social workers (the master’s degree or MSW). For those who want to practice and lead, the DSW may set you apart with additional knowledge and skills. Some unique advantages of an online DSW program include: 

Flexibility. Unlike brick-and-mortar universities, which have set class times, online programs rarely do. While they do follow a schedule for exams and assignments, students may have the freedom to work within their own schedule, from anywhere that has internet access.

Self-Directed. Sometimes, in a traditional setting, the students can find themselves feeling stuck waiting on a professor or overwhelmed trying to keep up with a fast-paced one. In an online DSW program, the student can take their time on more difficult topics or skip ahead when they’re ready.

Paying for a Doctorate of Social Work Program

While a bachelor’s degree in social work is the minimum requirement for certain jobs in the field, some positions require graduate-level training or beyond. With graduate-level and postgraduate classes ranging up to thousands of dollars per credit, financing a social work degree can be a challenge for many students.

Aside from traditional bank and federal student loans, many students turn to social work scholarships that can help offset their tuition and any related costs. Receiving a scholarship not only helps to alleviate the cost of higher education—usually, the funds do not have to be repaid. Depending on the scholarship, students may have to meet certain criteria to become eligible, such as GPA or career-specific requirements. 

FAQs

What is a DSW program? 

A DSW program is a Doctorate of Social Work program that offers advanced coursework in research, supervision, and policy analysis. DSW programs may help prepare social workers to become leaders and administrators in their specific field of social work. 

Is a DSW degree worth it?

As opposed to an MSW degree, a DSW degree may provide additional knowledge for those looking to advance their careers as a social work leader, researcher, or administrator. Whether or not a DSW degree is worth it for you depends on your own career goals and time available to dedicate to a post-graduate degree.

Do I need an MSW to obtain a DSW?

Not necessarily. While some programs require that you have a master’s in social work, other programs accept related degrees, such as a master’s in psychology or counseling. However, if you do have an MSW, it should be from a CSWE-accredited program. 

Can you become a teacher with a DSW?

You may become a post-secondary instructor with a DSW, with some experience if necessary, but typically, a person with a Ph.D. in Social Work may pursue a career in teaching and further research.  Someone who holds a DSW on the other hand, generally aims to advance in the workforce and hold leadership roles managing other social workers, creating policy, and working in legal services. 

What is the difference between a DSW vs. Ph.D. in Social Work?

The difference between a DSW and a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work lies in focus. The DSW focuses on the practice of social work. A Ph.D. in Social Work is based on research and theory to help improve the overall quality of life of families, individuals, and communities. 

For leaders looking to solve large-scale problems and conquer social work issues on a grand scale, a Doctorate of Social Work is a step beyond the Ph.D. The curriculum for DSW may include courses like leadership and management in complex social systems, and advanced social work policy and practice. A Ph.D. in Social Work, since it prepares students to become educators, researchers or scholars, may include courses such as social justice, values and the social work profession and contemporary social problems.

How long does it take to get a Doctorate of Social Work?

Most DSW programs may take around three years to complete coursework as a full-time student. 
A part-time DSW program on the other hand will likely take longer. Part-time programs are designed to accommodate students who work full-time or have other obligations.

Information on this page was retrieved in April 2021.