Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) Degree Programs Online

Last updated: July 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.

  • 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 Online DSW Program

Featured Online DSW Program
School Name Classroom Setting MSW Required? Start Dates
Simmons University Live Yes 3 (September, January, May)
University of Southern California Live No 3 (Fall, Spring, Summer)


Compare Online Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) Programs

All Online DSW Programs
School Name Classroom Setting MSW Required? Start Dates
Simmons University
Live Yes 3 (September, January, May)
University of Southern California
Live No 3 (Fall, Spring, Summer)
University of Pennyslvania Live Yes 1 (Fall)
University of Tennessee, Knoxville Live Yes 1 (Summer)

Recent as of July 2020

Insights into all Online DSW Programs

Simmons University - School of Social Work

Program Overview

Program Name: Doctorate of Social Work from Simmons University
Structure: Online with capstone project.

Program Information

Program Length: Complete in as few as 23 months
Program Start Dates: September, January, and May.
Instruction Methods: Live, online classes in a cohort-based model.

Admission Requirements

  • MSW required; two years post-MSW work experience preferred.
  • A GPA of at least 3.0 or higher in MSW coursework.
  • No GRE scores required.
Discover the online DSW program at Simmons University, request more information from SocialWork@Simmons.


University of Pennsylvania - School of Social Policy & Practice

Program Overview

Program Name: Doctorate in Clinical Social Work (DSW) from the University of Pennsylvania
Structure: Online with field education. Students must complete two in-person residencies.

Program Information

Program Length: Program can be completed in three years.
Program Start Dates: Fall admission only.
Instruction Methods: Courses are taught online through synchronous models.

Admission Requirements

  • Hold a master’s degree in social work from an accredited social work degree program.
  • Two years of post-MSW practice experience.
  • GRE: Not Required.

University of Southern California (USC): Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work

Program Overview

Program Name: Program Name: Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) from the University of Southern California
Structure: Students must complete a capstone project.

Program Information

Program Length: DSW@USC offers an accelerated 28-month program and a standard 36-month program.
Program Start Dates: Fall, Spring and Summer admissions.
Instruction Methods: Courses are taught online through synchronous and asynchronous models.

Admission Requirements

  • Students must hold a master’s degree from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education or a related field.
  • Five years of professional employment experience is strongly preferred.
  • GRE: Not Required.
Discover the online DSW program at USC, request more information from DSW@USC.


University of Tennessee, Knoxville - College of Social Work

Program Overview

Program Name: Doctor of Social Work (DSW) in Clinical Practice and Leadership from the University of Tennessee.
Structure: Online with field education. Students must attend an annual week of on-campus residency each summer devoted to intensive study and skills practice.

Program Information

Program Length: Students in the DSW program take two, three-credit courses per semester for a total of six hours per semester over the course of eight continuous semesters, including summer, for a total of 48 hours of doctoral study.
Program Start Dates: Fall admissions only.
Instruction Methods: Courses are taught online through synchronous and asynchronous models.

Admission Requirements

  • GPA: Minimum cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale for previous graduate work.
  • GRE: Have achieved a competitive score on the verbal and quantitative portions of the GRE. The GRE must have been taken within the last five years.

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


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.


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 Average Salary Popular Career Options
MSW $44,840 Medical/Public Health, Substance Abuse, Mental Health, Child Welfare, School Social Work
DSW $68,300 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.


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.


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.