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 Doctorate 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:

UniversityLocationLength of ProgramGPA and GRE Requirements
Barry UniversityMiami Shores, FL3 Years
  • Minimum GPA of 3.5
  • GPA Between 3.3 and 3.49 Considered on Individual Basis
  • No GRE Required
  • Capella UniversityMinneapolis, MNN/A
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • No GRE Required
  • Kutztown UniversityKutztown, PA3 YearsNo GRE Required
    Simmons University
    Sponsored Program
    Boston, MAComplete 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 UniversityNew Haven, CT3 Years
  • Minimum Undergraduate GPA of 2.5
  • Minimum Graduate GPA of 3.0
  • Tulane UniversityNew Orleans, LA3 YearsMinimum GPA of 3.3
    University of AlabamaTuscaloosa, AL3 Years
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • No GRE Required
  • University at Buffalo – The State University of New YorkBuffalo, NY3 YearsGRE Required
    University of PennsylvaniaPennsylvania, PA2 – 3 YearsNo 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. ThomasSt. Paul, MN3 YearsMinimum GPA of 3.0
    University of TennesseeKnoxville, TN3 Years
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • GRE Required
  • Walden UniversityMinneapolis, MN2.5 YearsN/A

    This table was last updated in June 2020. For the most up-to-date information, visit the university’s website.

    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 of social work degree. 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 2019 was $50,479, with the highest 10 percent of workers earning salaries of more than $82,540 per year. The median annual salary for postsecondary social work teachers in 2019 was $72,070, 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

    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 June 2020.