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 online degree programs. 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 (PhD) 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 and evaluators and to assume other leadership roles within various settings. Some common workplaces include social work agencies and healthcare offices/organizations. 

Online doctorate in social work programs are typically structured to teach students how to conduct research and gain 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.

University of Southern California

USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work

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Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Professionals from a variety of fields learn to develop solutions to poverty, homelessness and other social issues with USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work’s online Doctorate of Social Work. Complete the program in 28 months part time with a master’s degree.

  • Earn a doctorate from USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. 
  • Study part time without attending classes on campus. 
  • Complete the online DSW program in 28 months. 

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Simmons University

Simmons School of Social Work (SSW)

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Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

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.

  • Complete in less than two years full time or less than three years part time 
  • MSW required; two years post-MSW work experience preferred 
  • No GRE scores required

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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 admission to the program. 

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

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

Barry University

School of Social Work

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Miami Shores, Florida

Name of Degree: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Enrollment Type: Part-Time

Length of Program: 3 years

Credits: 48

Concentrations:

Trauma Informed Practice

Capella University

School of Social Work

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Name of Degree: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Enrollment Type: Full-Time and Part-Time

Length of Program: 4+ years

Credits: 62

Concentrations: N/A

Admission 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
Learn more about the Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) from Capella University

Kutztown University

Department of Social Work

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Kutztown, Pennsylvania

Name of Degree: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Enrollment Type: Part-Time

Length of Program: 3 years

Credits: 48

Concentrations:

Leadership and Management

Admission 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
Learn more about the Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) from Kutztown University

Southern Connecticut State University

School of Social Work

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

New Haven, Connecticut

Name of Degree: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Enrollment Type: Part-Time

Length of Program: 3 years

Credits: 48

Concentrations:

Advanced Clinical Practice, Leadership and Management

Admission 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
Learn more about the Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) from Southern Connecticut State University

St. Thomas University

St. Thomas School of Social Work

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

St. Paul, Minnesota

Name of Degree: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Enrollment Type: Part-Time

Length of Program: 3 years

Credits: 45

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • MSW from an accredited program
  • Three years post-MSW practice experience
  • Three letters of reference
  • Sample of written work
  • Application essay
Learn more about the Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) from St. Thomas University

The University of Alabama

School of Social Work

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Name of Degree: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Enrollment Type: Part-Time

Length of Program: 3 years

Credits: 45

Concentrations:

Leadership and Management

Admission 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
Learn more about the Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) from The University of Alabama

Tulane University

School of Social Work

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

New Orleans, Louisiana

Name of Degree: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Enrollment Type: Full-Time and Part-Time

Length of Program: 3 years

Credits: 54

Concentrations: N/A

Admission 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
Learn more about the Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) from Tulane University

University at Buffalo

School of Social Work

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Buffalo, New York

Name of Degree: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Enrollment Type: Part-Time

Length of Program: 3 years

Credits: 39

Concentrations:

Evidence-Based Practice with a Trauma-Informed and Human Rights Perspective

Admission 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
Learn more about the Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) from University at Buffalo

University of Kentucky

School of Social Work

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Lexington, Kentucky

Name of Degree: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Enrollment Type: Full-Time and Part-Time

Length of Program: 2.5+ years

Credits: 42

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • MSW from an accredited program 
  • Employment History 
  • Three years post-MSW practice experience 
  • Three letters of reference 
  • Sample of written work 
  • Application essay
Learn more about the Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) from University of Kentucky

University of Pennsylvania

College of Social Work

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Name of Degree: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Enrollment Type: Full-Time

Length of Program: 2.5+ years

Credits: N/A

Concentrations:

Clinical Social Work

Admission Requirements:

  • MSW from an accredited program 
  • Three years post-MSW practice experience 
  • Three letters of reference 
  • Sample of written work 
  • Application essay
Learn more about the Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) from University of Pennsylvania

University of Tennessee at Knoxville

School of Social Work

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Knoxville, Tennessee

Name of Degree: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Enrollment Type: Part-Time

Length of Program: 3 years

Credits: 45

Concentrations:

Clinical Practice, Leadership and Management

Admission 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 
  • Three references
Learn more about the Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) from University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Walden University

School of Social Work

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Name of Degree: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Enrollment Type: N/A

Length of Program: 2.5 years

Credits: 78 quarter credits

Concentrations:

Advanced Clinical Practice, Social Work Education, Impact Leadership in Social Work Administration

Admission Requirements:

  • Master of Social Work (MSW degree)
  • Two years of post-MSW practice experience within the last five years
  • Resume
  • Transcripts
Learn more about the Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) from Walden University

Additional Social Work Programs

What to Expect From a DSW Program?

Online 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 an online 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 or 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. Some 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 to produce quality work and your dedication to social work practice.

Curriculum 

Like education requirements, the DSW degree curriculum does vary between programs. The variety of the social work curriculum aims to provide you with a deeper dive into leadership and managerial material and skills that will help you within your 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 leadership, or even criminal justice or medical social work.

Organizations

As a social work student, you are likely aware of several organizations to follow, such as the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). For an even more extended view, check out other organizations below:

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 or LMSW 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 policies at local or national levels, or they might 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 the 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 courses and performs research in social work at a college or university. A social work professor may begin 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, middle or high schools to help remove barriers to education and address issues in and out of the school environment that may affect students’ well-being. Learn more about how to become a school social worker.
  • Social and 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 policies and oversee management. Learn more about how to become a social work administrator.

DSW Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual pay for social workers in 2020 was $51,760, with the highest 10% 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 online DSW programs include:

Flexibility: Unlike brick-and-mortar universities, which have set class times, online DSW 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 lesson. In an online DSW program, the student can take their time on more difficult topics or skip ahead when they’re ready.

Paying for an Online Doctorate in 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 helps to alleviate the cost of higher education, and the funds usually 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 earn 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 PhD 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 policies and working in legal services.

What is the difference between a DSW and a PhD 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 PhD in social work is based on research and theory to help improve the overall quality of life for 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 PhD. The curriculum for a DSW may include courses like leadership and management in complex social systems and advanced social work policy and practice. Since a PhD in social work prepares students to become educators, researchers or scholars, the program may include courses such as social justice, values and the social work profession, and contemporary social problems.

How long does it take to earn 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 September 2021.