Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) Degree Programs Online

Last updated: November 2020

2020 Accredited Online DSW Programs

A Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) offers advanced training in a specific area of practice within social work. Students pursuing a DSW usually focus on social work administration and clinical social work. DSW degree programs offer students an opportunity to advance their careers in social work and innovate within the social work space. There are many options available for students looking to pursue an online DSW program.

Candidates are prepared for leadership roles and are trained on innovation and management in areas of social work like social work administration, clinical social work, and child, family and school social work. Most DSW programs require a form of residency or dissertation that helps form skills toward advancing a candidate’s professional career.

usc-social-work
  • Earn a Doctorate of Social Work in an accelerated 28-month program or a standard 36-month program.
  • DSW@USC prepares experienced professionals to develop practical, applied solutions to large-scale social challenges.

Sponsored

Sponsored Online DSW Programs

Sponsored Online DSW Programs
School Name Location Classroom Setting MSW Required? GRE Required? Start Dates
Simmons University Boston, Massachusetts Live Yes No 3 (September, January, May)
University of Southern California Los Angeles, California Live No No 3 (Fall, Spring, Summer)

Sponsored

Compare Online Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) Programs

Simmons University

Boston, Massachusetts

Simmons University logo

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Online DSW:
48 credits
Full-time: Less than 2 years
Part-Time: Less than 3 years

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

To apply, applicants must have a master's degree from a CSWE-accredited program with a GPA of at least 3.0 or higher in their MSW coursework. Two years of relevant post-MSW work experience preferred.

Earn in as Few as 23 Months

No GRE Required

Simmons School of Social Work is the oldest school of clinical social work in the nation and has offered online graduate social work education since 20141. As a student, prepare to become a visionary leader, practice with evidence-informed and inclusive models, and teach the next generation of social workers. Learn more today.

START DATES

January, May, and September

Simmons prepares students for diverse career paths as scholar-practitioners.

Learn more from SocialWork@Simmons

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, California

Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service logo

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Standard:
42 credits
Full-time: 9 semesters

Accelerated:
42 credits
Full-time: 7 semesters

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

Prospective DSW students must hold a master’s degree from a regionally accredited program or any professional doctorate. Official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and writing prompts are also required.

Can be Completed in 28 Months

No GRE Required

Designed to prepare professionals to address social issues, top-ranked2 USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work’s online Doctorate of Social Work program can be completed through an accelerated 28-month track or standard 36-month track.

Learn to design solutions to social issues.

Learn more from DSW@USC

Barry University

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Doctorate in Social Work from Barry University

Part-Time DSW:
48 credits

START DATES

Fall

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

GPA: Minimum GPA of 3.5
GRE: Not required
MSW: Required

The Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) is a practice-focused degree in clinical social work. Students learn program and organizational management, trauma-informed clinical practice, and how to produce practice-based knowledge for professional practice.

 

Capella University

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
DSW - Doctor of Social Work from Capella University

Hybrid, Full-Time, or Part-Time DSW:
71 quarter credits

START DATES

Fall

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

GPA: Minimum GPA of 3.0
GRE: Not required
MSW: Required

Students learn real-world management skills with Capella University’s online DSW. The program is designed to meet CSWE guidelines and helps prepare students for leadership and education positions.

 

Kutztown University

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Doctor of Social Work from Kutztown University

Hybrid or Part-Time DSW:
48 credits

START DATES

Fall

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

GPA: Minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher
GRE: Not required
MSW: Required

Kutztown University’s DSW emphasizes leadership and education. The program is designed to prepare students to become leaders as well as educators for government, agencies, and higher education.

 

Southern Connecticut State University

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Doctor of Social Work (DSW) from Southern Connecticut State University

Part-Time Online DSW:
48 credits

START DATES

Fall, spring, and summer

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

GPA: Minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher
GRE: Not required
MSW: Required


This program is designed for master’s-level social workers who wish to maintain their employment while studying. Southern Connecticut State University’s DSW prepares students to practice ethically as compassionate agents of change.

 

Tulane University

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Doctor of Social Work (DSW) from Tulane University

Part-Time and Full-Time Online DSW:
54 credits

START DATES

Fall and spring

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

GPA: Minimum GPA of 3.3 in both undergraduate and graduate study
GRE: Not required
MSW: Required

Tulane’s DSW trains social workers to serve in diverse communities and help create a more equitable world. Students learn from faculty who have firsthand knowledge of living and learning with communities in New Orleans.

 

University of Alabama

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Doctor of Social Work from University of Alabama

Part-Time Online DSW:
45 credits

START DATES

Fall, spring, and summer

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

GPA: Minimum GPA of 3.0
GRE: Not required
MSW: Required

The University of Alabama’s DSW helps prepare students for advanced social work practice and leadership positions. This program equips students for public and nonprofit agency management or teaching positions.

 

University at Buffalo – The State University of New York

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
DSW Online from University at Buffalo

Part-Time Online DSW:
49 credits

START DATES

Fall

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

GPA: No Minimum GPA
GRE: Required
MSW: Required

This program is designed for experienced social workers who wish to advance their professional practice. University at Buffalo’s DSW helps prepare students for leadership positions and contribute to bringing a trauma-informed and human rights perspective into practice.

 

University of Pennsylvania

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Doctorate in Clinical Social Work (DSW) from University of Pennsylvania

Part-Time Online DSW:
12 credit units

START DATES

Fall

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

GPA: Minimum GPA of 3.0
GRE: Not required
MSW: Required

The Doctorate in Clinical Social Work (DSW) at Penn University is aimed to help practicing social workers position themselves as experts with deep knowledge. Students can complete their coursework and dissertations simultaneously.

 

University of St. Thomas

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Doctorate in Social Work from University of St. Thomas

Part-Time Online DSW:
45 credit hours

START DATES

Fall and spring

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

GPA: Minimum GPA of 3.0
GRE: Not required
MSW: Required

The St. Thomas DSW prepares students for university-level teaching and leadership positions in colleges and universities. The program’s online delivery format makes this DSW accessible to professionals throughout the country.

 

University of Tennessee

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Doctor of Social Work Degree from University of Tennessee

Part-Time Online DSW:
48 credit hours

START DATES

Summer

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

GPA: Minimum GPA of 3.0
GRE: Required
MSW: Required

The University of Tennessee’s Doctor of Social Work (DSW) in Clinical Practice and Leadership is geared toward working professionals interested in advanced clinical practice and leadership. The curriculum is focused on research, clinical leadership, and clinical science.

 

Walden University

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Doctor of Social Work from Walden University

Part-Time and Full-Time Online DSW:
58 quarter credits

START DATES

Check university website

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

GPA: Minimum GPA of 3.0
GRE: Not required
MSW: Check university website

Walden University’s online DSW program helps prepare students to become leaders in their field and advocate for social justice. The program includes eight specializations to align coursework with personal interests.

 

Requirements for DSW Programs

The academic requirements for DSW programs are similar to those of other doctoral programs. However, most programs require some professional experience with social work following an applicant’s completion of a master’s program.

Education and Professional Experience

The educational requirements for a DSW differ by the institution offering the program. Eligible applicants for a DSW typically must have a master’s degree in social work (MSW), but in some cases, a master’s degree or doctorate in a related field such as nursing or public health is sufficient.

DSW candidates are generally required to have at least two years of post-MSW practice.

GRE and GPA Requirements

GRE and GPA requirements for DSW applicants also vary by institution, and whether or not the applicant has earned their MSW. In some cases, students who have earned their MSW are not required to take the GRE. However, many institutions require proficient scores in the exams.

DSW applicants should have an exceptional academic track record with a GPA that reflects their work. Though institutions generally require a GPA of at least 3.0 on the 4.0 scale, some programs require a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

Application Requirements

Specific application requirements vary by institution, but commonly include:

  • Current resume
  • Three letters of recommendation from professional associates or academic instructors
  • All official transcripts
  • Writing sample(s) (prompts are often provided)
  • Personal essay
  • In-person interview

Accreditation

Teaching institutions related to social work are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Commission on Accreditation. The CSWE accredits BSW and MSW programs, recognizing the MSW as the terminal degree within the field of study. However, some regional accreditors want those who teach in the MSW program to earn their DSW or Ph.D. in social work. Additionally, many DSW and Ph.D. programs require an MSW from a CSWE-accredited institution.

As of March 2020, accreditation of doctoral programs is under consideration by the CSWE’s Commission on Accreditation.

DSW Program Details

Most students who seek a DSW are often already have their professional careers and have full-time jobs. Most of the programs offer online, hybrid and on-campus options for students. Weigh the pros and cons of the different student experiences when considering which route is best for your situation. Consider the environment in which you’d like to practice social work, and if the DSW curriculum is the optimal learning experience for you.

Online DSW vs. on-campus DSW

Since most applicants for DSW programs require the ability to continue working full time, these programs generally offer flexible schedules—even for those students who prefer the more hands-on experience of furthering their education in person. These classes would have an executive-style structure with night classes two to three times per week.

Online DSW programs offer students even more flexibility by letting them do their coursework at home. While online programs offer extra convenience, they do require that students attend residencies and sometimes present capstone projects in person. Therefore, in-person attendance will be required for at least a part of the program.

Tuition, financial aid and scholarships

The cost of tuition varies greatly depending on which institution the applicant chooses to attend. DSW programs typically cost students around $10,00-20,000 , while some degree programs can have tuition costs as high as over $80,000. Nearly all institutions offer financial aid and scholarships, but there are options — these can be found on the institution’s website. Additionally, more information and instructions on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be found on the FAFSA website.

Coursework

The DSW curriculum is typically condensed into eight semesters over three years. Usually, the first year of the program establishes a strong foundation in social work that combines research, statistics, and clinical theory. The second-year curriculum introduces students to applied, specialized studies that prepare them for teaching. The second year of the program is the last year of actual coursework for DSW students. Through the third and final year of the program, students will complete and defend their dissertation.

To see an example of some courses that DSW students might be required to take, as well as some related electives, check the university’s website.

Start dates

The start dates for DSW programs vary by institution. Some schools offer start dates throughout the year during fall, spring and summer. Some institutions will start DSW courses twice a year, and some only once. If you have an institution in mind, check their website to find out more about their DSW start dates.

Common Career Paths with a DSW Degree

A Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) demonstrates you have a greater understanding of how to solve problems faced in the real world, such as bullying, child welfare and poverty. DSW programs are designed for working professionals who wish to have a greater impact in their practice. A DSW degree may also take an MSW one step further for social workers who want to excel in their area of practice, expand their spectrum of career opportunities in social work, and/or become more aware of policies that can directly impact their practice.

Social work administration

Social work administration includes working at the macro level of social work. Rather than focusing on one client, social work administrators focus on the future and success of the practice as a whole. Popular social work administration jobs include those with family or social service agencies, child welfare departments, school settings, hospitals, home health care agencies and probation agencies. Necessary skills for this line of work include active listening, organization, emotional intelligence, empathy and critical thinking.

Clinical social work

Clinical social work involves using methods of treatment and prevention to address mental illness. Clinical Social workers require a clinical social work license, make sure to check with your state requirements and whether the program you're looking at has a clinical track. Clinical social workers pursue careers in a variety of settings to provide services and treatments to individuals, groups and families. They apply their knowledge on analysis, diagnosis and treatment of mental health. This social work career is known for its variety of roles and career paths. Popular careers in clinical social work include child, family and school, substance abuse, and medical social work. Necessary skills for this line of work include social perceptiveness, organization, cooperation, relaxation and active listening.

What is the Difference Between an MSW and a DSW?

A DSW is the next step in social work education after the MSW. The primary difference between the two degrees is the career options they create. A DSW expands the knowledge a student gains as they earn an MSW and, in many cases, this expands the opportunities available to those social workers who’ve completed their DSW—including making them more qualified to teach in the field of social work.

Salaries and job outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social worker jobs are expected to grow at a much faster pace than average in the coming years. There are, however, some differences in career options for those who’ve earned a DSW as opposed to an MSW.

MSW programs ensure students have the tools to become successful social workers within multiple work environments. A DSW is a much more research-focused program that advances students’ capabilities by providing them with the knowledge necessary to take on leadership roles in the industry. This ultimately sets students up to affect social change on a greater scale.

Featured Online DSW Program
Degree Median Salary Popular Career Options
MSW $46,650 Medical/Public Health, Substance Abuse, Mental Health, Child Welfare, School Social Work
DSW $72,070 Leadership, Organization, Clinical Practice, Professor, Administrator

Salary information retrieved from O*Net Summary Report for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers and Social Work Teachers: Postsecondary

Please refer to our social worker salary guide as well as our article on the highest paying social work jobs for more information.

Licensure

As is the case with accreditation, the highest level of licensing within social work comes with the MSW—there is no specific licensure at the doctoral level. The reason is that the CSWE’s Commission on Accreditation focuses on accrediting institutions that prepare their students for practicing social work.

Some social workers opt to gain some real-world experience and obtain their MSW licensure before looking into social work doctoral programs. Students can, however, choose to start a DSW program immediately upon earning their MSW if this better fits their career goals in social work, provided that the institution they apply to does not require professional experience.

See our guide on the difference between the two licensure paths: LMSW vs. LCSW

Doctorate of Social Work vs. Ph.D. in Social Work

A Ph.D. in social work is primarily a research-based degree while a DSW offers advanced training in a specific area of social work with more hands-on experience. A DSW degree ensures that the qualified candidate will gain extended knowledge of problem-solving skills to help create and advocate for a better society. Ph.D. social work candidates may conduct an extensive amount of research that provides advancement in social work careers.

Social work as an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary field

A student who has earned a DSW is equipped to deal with problems as both a social worker and researcher. When a social worker gets to the doctoral level, the disciplines they previously studied are built upon in a research-intensive setting to enable them to positively impact social work on a macro level.

Research vs. clinical practice

The main difference between DSW and Ph.D. programs is the emphasis on clinical practice vs. research, respectively. The Ph.D. program is more traditional in that it prepares students for an academic environment within social work, and doctoral candidates prepare a dissertation.

Students who earn their Ph.D. in social work will have a much more research-driven career in this environment. DSW students, on the other hand, typically complete a capstone project or residency program to gain direct or closely related experience to their future role. Their careers will likely involve more day-to-day social work, making a difference at the individual and family level.

FAQs

Do I need my MSW to earn my DSW?

Requirements for DSW admission vary by university. Even so, candidates must have a master’s degree to pursue a doctoral degree. Some programs require a MSW while others require a master’s degree in similar areas of study such as an advanced degree in Public Administration (MPA), Public Health (MPH), Nursing (MSN), Public Policy (MPP), Business Administration (MBA), Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT), or any professional doctorate.

If you are looking to earn an accredited MSW online, check out our full list of CSWE-accredited online MSW programs, or see our Guide to Online Social Work Degrees.

How long does it take to get a doctorate in social work (DSW)?

The length of a DSW program varies by school. Some programs offer an accelerated 24-month program that includes completing a residency and capstone project. Other universities may offer similar part-time options or full-time enrollment tracks. Most DSW programs take two to five years to complete.

Is professional experience required to be accepted into a DSW program?

Most programs require a certain amount of professional experience to be admitted.

Are there any full-time DSW programs?

There are full-time and part-time options offered, depending on the university. Most programs are designed for professionals who work full time and participate in the program simultaneously.

Are DSW programs accredited?

DSW programs are not accredited by the CSWE, but the Commission on Accreditation (COA) and Commission on Educational Policy (COEP) have reviewed and approved a draft of accreditation standards. The COA and COEP will vote whether or not to accredit DSW programs to the Practice Doctorate Committee in June 2020.


This page includes information from O*NET OnLine by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license. O*NET® is a trademark of USDOL/ETA.