Though the doctoral degree in social work will not lead to a higher level of licensure, it will advance one’s career and prepare students for careers in leadership, administration, and advanced clinical practice. Especially beneficial for students seeking a career in social work education, the DSW is by far the best and necessary avenue for obtaining this professional goal, especially since doctoral degrees are largely the standard for academia across fields.
With only a handful of online DSW programs offered nationwide, students must seek admission to most schools on competitive grounds. Many doctoral programs require a completed Master of Social Work degree (MSW) in addition to up to two to three years of post-master-degree experience in the field. For institutions that do not require it, these qualifications are still recommended.
Earning a degree in Social Work at the doctoral level requires up to three years to complete, but generally speaking, programs are tailored to serve working professionals. Students can expect to get a blend of classroom coursework combined with research opportunities and at least one residency on campus per year or semester. Most programs are part-time and/or offer flexible scheduling to complete credit hours.
What’s the difference between a PhD in Social Work and a DSW?
Traditionally the Doctor of Social Work has been considered a practice doctorate as opposed to a research degree like the PhD, and historically the PhD has been a more popular option when it came to doctorate level study in the field of Social work. In the early part of the 21st century, however, the DSW program gained ground as the age of evidence-based practice took hold in the clinical world. However, historically one degree is not any better than the other, and today both are practice doctorate degrees. The major contemporary difference can be found if an institution offers both degrees––there students can expect the PhD program to be the research-heavy option.
1. George Williams College of Aurora University
For students seeking a mix of both online and classroom learning, Aurora University is a great match. The George Williams College at Aurora is one of seven campuses that make up the university, and the college offers academic programs in areas such as nursing, environmental sciences and applied psychology, as well as hosts the online DSW program. The hybrid program utilizes high tech and high touch learning experiences to offer students a fair blend of class time along with real-life exposure in the social work field––students can expect to participate in either a low residency or weekend residency program in addition to their coursework. On campus lodging is available during residency periods. Social workers who wish to advance their clinical careers as well as those who would like to teach advanced clinical therapy can both benefit from the program. The program runs on a part-time basis so professionals can balance school with work. In addition to 48 semester hours, students must complete 12 internship hours and 4 dissertation hours. Students also complete a comprehensive exam before obtaining their DSW.
2. Walden University
Walden University has a rich 45-year history in service to adult learners who wish to further their careers through higher education. By following market trends and engaging in local and global communities, Walden University is able to offer students unique in- and out-of-classroom learning experiences. The university today offers two online options with a Doctorate in Social Work degree or the option to get a PhD in Social Work. By taking a sustainable solutions approach, both programs strive to provide students with the skills necessary to become leaders in today social issues. There are eight different specializations to choose from and the curriculum follows the latest research and best practices annually. One four-day residency is required as well as a research project that reflects the culmination of the student’s study over the course of the program. A Master of Social Work (MSW) is a required prerequisite for the online DSW program at Walden.
3. Capella University
Capella University, a fully online institution, was founded in 1993 to primarily serve professional adults who wished to further their careers through an accredited and accessible education. Today the university offers degrees from the baccalaureate to master levels. Students who choose to earn their DSW fully online at Capella benefit from extras such as enrollment counselors, community and networking groups, and the career center. The online DSW program is designed to follow national doctoral social work education guidelines and prepares students for careers as leaders, educators, or advanced practitioners. State of the art technology, affordability and flexibility in coursework and scheduling are other ways that Capella students benefit while furthering their careers in social work with a doctorate degree.
4. Our Lady of the Lake University
Our Lady of the Lake University is a fully accredited institution with campuses in San Antonio, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley, and online. Founded in 1895 by the Congregation of Divine Providence, the small university serves a little over three thousand students annually. The hybrid PhD in Social Work program through Our Lady of the Lake University is set up to serve students who desire to teach in Carnegie classified institutions from the baccalaureate to doctoral levels. PhD level social work faculty are in high demand, in part because of the influx of DSW programs. Additionally, students can go on to find successful careers in social work as administrators and leaders. The 54-credit-hour program takes three years of online study to complete and follows the traditional two-semester academic year. If students need to continue coursework in the summer they must attend one week classes at the main campus classes in San Antonio.
5. Florida Atlantic University
Florida Atlantic University offers the first DSW program in the state of Florida and the degree is completed in a hybrid fashion with some coursework found online and some on campus; on-campus classes are scheduled during the evenings and on weekends and meet at the FAU Boca Raton campus. The three-year part-time cohort model serves working professionals who want to further their education while not compromising their professional careers. Graduates go on to fill a plethora of rolls professionally such as leaders in academia, clinical practitioners, or administrators. Admission to the DSW program is competitive and an accredited MSW is a prerequisite along with a minimum of two years post-MSW experience.
6. Millersville University and Kutztown University – Joint Program
The joint Doctor of Social Work program offered through Millersville University and Kutztown University focuses on preparing social work educators and leaders in agencies, government, and higher education. The program is a hybrid with coursework primarily completed online and weekend residencies once a semester for all students enrolled. Students may attend these residencies at either Millersville University, a public institution located in Millersville, Pennsylvania, or at Kutztown University. The part time program has three terms per year and runs on a cohort model. The program is compatible with both bachelor and master’s degree recipients.
7. University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine’s – Joint Program
The joint program through the University of St. Thomas and the University of St. Catherine, both in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is the first DSW program offered in the nation that focuses on preparing social work faculty specifically for university-level teaching and leadership in colleges and universities. All candidates applying must have previously obtained an MSW from an accredited college or university and the online program is geared towards serving working professionals who wish to further their careers. The university is dedicated to pursuing social justice through service and leadership and students studying online must be prepared to participate in these out-of-classroom activities through internships and work opportunities. The three-year curriculum uses a cohort model and though learning remotely students can still expect to form strong personal and professional connections with their fellow students. A banded dissertation must be completed before graduation. The dissertation model consists of three critical works of scholarship that are all linked by theme, issue, pedagogy or population.
8. Rutgers University
Rutgers University is the state university of New Jersey and was established in 1766, making it the eighth oldest higher education institution in the nation. True to the university’s mission, Rutgers University’s online DSW degree program is focused on producing leaders in the field of clinical social work practice by helping students to translate their rich practical experiences into publishable contemplative case studies and qualitative research. In addition to the online coursework all students must participate in weekend residencies, making the DSW at Rutgers a hybrid program. The three-year degree program uniquely focuses on writing and is ideal for social workers with an interest in research and creating publishable, relevant material. Case studies from the student’s first year will be built upon over the next two culminating in multi-media research that allows students to disseminate their work while engaging in the scholarly community at large.
9. University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Founded in 1794, the University of Tennessee is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the state and was the first public university chartered west of the Appalachian Divide. Today the school serves students from around the world at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Through the Knoxville campus one of the most affordable Doctorate of Social Work degree programs in the nation can be found. The accredited intensive, accelerated program prepares graduates for advanced clinical practice as leaders in the field of social work, and is set up to serve working professionals. Students will complete their coursework in three years and without career disruption. As a unique feature, the DSW program has an advanced clinical social work curriculum that focuses on evidence-based practice, clinical science, applied research, and clinical leadership. Courses are offered in both synchronous and asynchronous modes and the program requires all students to attend a one-week intensive each summer for the duration of their study. In addition to course work students can expect to serve in practice settings with veterans and military children at risk and other currently underserved populations.
10. Baylor University
Baylor University was founded in … and is both a Christian institution and a nationally ranked research institution. Students from across the globe come to Baylor to study from the baccalaureate to doctoral levels. The department of Social Work at Baylor serves students and professionals both on campus and online. Online students wishing to obtain their Doctorate of Social Work degree can expect to get the same rigorous education remotely as would be found in the classroom. The curriculum is designed to be taught fully online using state-of-the-art technology and videoconferencing. In addition to the online coursework students are required to attend a five-day session in Waco, Texas at the commencement of their study. The online DSW program follows a cohort model and classes meet once a week. The final step in earning an online DSW degree from Baylor is to complete a one-week on campus intensive at the end of the program where students share a public presentation of their cumulative research.