Online Doctor of Social Work (DSW) Programs

A Doctor in Social Work program is an advanced doctoral degree that aims to prepare students for a specialized understanding and competence in academic research, policy development and analysis, and supervision. The difference between a Ph.D. in Social Work and a DSW program is that a DSW program focuses on applied work within the field, preparing students to become leaders, administrators, and in positions of applying research. A Ph.D. in social work prepares students for conducting academic research and providing instruction within the world of academia. 

A DSW program can typically be completed within three years, should the student be enrolled full-time. Most programs require a master’s degree in social work, but others accept degrees in a closely related field such as nursing, public health, psychology, or health administration. This article aims to give you an understanding of what encompasses a DSW program and highlight some online programs.

What does a DSW Social Worker do?

A DSW is a professional who works as an advanced practitioner in the field of social work, where they have extensive knowledge and training in social work theory and practice. A DSW has various career options to choose from depending on whether the individual wishes to work at a micro or macro level. DSWs can practice in different settings, such as healthcare organizations, mental health clinics, social services agencies, and academic institutions. At a micro level, these professionals can also provide direct mental health services to individuals, families, couples, or groups. 

At a macro level, DSWs can focus on developing and implementing social programs and policies that address the needs of vulnerable populations. They may also engage in leadership roles, helping with the implementation of plans, policies, and initiatives within an organization or government sector. DSWs can also contribute to the field through research and scholarship. Whether it is working as an academic instructor in an institution or engaging in the development and implementation of academic research and publication,

Most DSW programs have an emphasis on social work administration and the clinical practice of social work practices. Students pursuing a DSW have an interest in working as practitioners, directly with clients. Pursuing a career as a DSW comes with additional responsibilities along with a variety of career opportunities. The main tenet of social work is advocacy for social justice.

Considerations for Online Doctor of Social Work Programs

When pursuing a DSW program, you may have several considerations to account for. At the bachelor’s or master’s degree level, a significant consideration would be the accreditation status of the program. The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) serves as the national governing body for social workers, responsible for verifying that individuals meet the required standards and qualifications to practice as social workers. ASWB oversees all licensure processes and testing and sets standards that accrediting bodies must adhere to.

CSWE-Accredited DSW Programs

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), a national accreditation body, evaluates graduate programs to ensure that they meet the educational standards and guidelines necessary to produce competent professional social workers who are prepared for licensure. CSWE focuses on ensuring the quality of education related to social work research, policy, theory, and practice.

Doctoral programs such as online DSW programs are not accredited by an agency, but CSWE is moving in the direction of creating an accreditation process for these advanced degrees.

Some considerations to account for prior to applying to a DSW program include an understanding of the curriculum requirements, including coursework that aligns with your academic interests. Students look for opportunities to engage in academic research and align existing research areas within the program. Field education and training make up a significant component of a DSW program, and it is important to consider what opportunities and support you would receive from the program to pursue your applied training. Most online programs offer accessibility to resources and flexibility in enrollment and coursework completion, which is an aspect that students value in being able to engage in other life commitments.

14 Online Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) Programs

The following doctorate of social work programs are all offered online and can be completed in under three years.
UniversityProgram URLCityStateGRE Required?
Barry University ShoresFloridaNo
Capella University
Kutztown University
Simmons University
Southern Connecticut State University HavenConnecticutYes
St. Thomas University PaulMinnesotaNo
The University of Alabama
Tulane University OrleansLouisianaNo
University at Buffalo YorkYes
University of Kentucky
University of Pennsylvania
University of Southern California AngelesCaliforniaNo
University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Walden University

Online DSW Programs

  1. Simmons University – The Doctor of Social Work program at Simmons University is designed to prepare students for leadership and advocacy in social work. The program can be completed in less than two years, and students can be enrolled full-time or part-time. The program has a clinical focus, where individuals develop skills for direct practice with clients along with skills to work in academia.
  2. Capella University – This institution offers a CSWE-accredited MSW program and a DSW program that focuses on leadership and specialized practitioner skills. The program includes a capstone project, involvement in research, and two virtual residencies. The program consists of a 62-credit-hour curriculum that takes about three years to complete.
  3. Walden University – This doctoral program prepares students to advance into roles of administrative leadership, social work education, and entrepreneurship. The program also offers a $5,000 grant for some intakes. Program requirements consist of a capstone project, the ability to choose between three specializations, and the completion of the residency requirement. The three specializations include advanced clinical practice, impact leadership in social work administration, and social work education.
  4. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville – UT Knoxville offers a DSW degree in Clinical Practice and Leadership, taking a two-pronged approach to leadership skill building and clinical application. This is an intensive, accelerated program that can be completed in three years. This program is unique because it is a ‘professional practice degree’ that prepares students as clinicians. Students are offered the flexibility of taking coursework along with working full-time. The program has a capstone requirement, along with the completion of a clinical residency.
  5. The University of Pennsylvania – This DSW program is a clinically focused degree that can be completed in three years. Students are trained to become clinical experts, educators, and scholars. The program is designed to accommodate working professionals, with courses offered during the evenings. There is also a hybrid program available to students wanting to transition into a hands-on learning experience. Students are required to complete a dissertation project that prompts their involvement in academic research along with clinical training and practice.
  6. The University of Kentucky – This 42-credit-hour program is designed to prepare students for work in higher-level administrative positions. The program utilizes a CorePlus model that allows for accessibility and flexibility for students to take courses at their desired pace. They may enroll full-time or part-time. Students can choose from four concentrations, including administrative leadership, clinical social work, military behavioral health, or social work education. Students are required to complete academic research requirements along with the completion of a virtual residency.
  7. Tulane University – Tulane’s DSW program is geared towards preparing students for executive-level positions in the field of social work. The curriculum is focused on competence in designing, evaluating, and implementing effective programs and policies. The curriculum consists of 54 credit hours that can be completed in three years. The program takes an evidence-based scientist-practitioner model approach and offers additional training for students wanting to pursue expertise in program management, research, leadership, and teaching.
  8. Southern Connecticut State University – This program prepares masters-level social workers for leadership in educational and organizational settings. The DSW program is offered in a part-time format that can be completed in three years, making it a great fit for working professionals. Students are required to complete an externship and a capstone project. Students are offered three areas of focus including advanced clinical practice, university teaching, and leadership and management. The curriculum consists of 48 credit hours and is comprehensive and intensive in clinical and social background and practice.
  9. Barry University – The DSW program at Barry University is geared towards training practitioners in trauma-informed clinical practice, organizational management, and practice-based knowledge. Students are required to complete a capstone project, and the university offers a variety of academic scholarships and funding opportunities. Students can be enrolled full-time or part-time, and the 50-credit-hour curriculum can be completed in about three years with a part-time enrollment.
  10. The University of Alabama – This online DSW program consists of a 45-credit-hour curriculum that can be completed in three years. Students are prepared for specialized practice, agency management, and teaching. Students can choose from an advanced clinical practice track or an organizational leadership track. Students are provided support in the selection of an internship residency site.
  11. Millersville University – This institution offers a DSW program that has a focus on advanced leadership and education. The program has a residency requirement that can be completed virtually or in person. The curriculum consists of 48 credit hours and students can complete the degree in as little as three years but have the option of taking coursework based on individual pace.
  12. Loma Linda University – Loma Linda offers a DSW program that is focused on clinical leadership. The curriculum consists of 83 credit hours and can be completed in three years. This institution is nationally and globally recognized for its training in clinical social work, education, and promotion of social justice. Students are provided with a hands-on experience of support and guidance for personal and professional development.
  13. University of Buffalo – This 39-credit-hour DSW program is geared towards a focus on professional practice, research, and implementation science. The program also offers specialized training in trauma-informed practice and human rights. Students are required to complete a capstone project along with the completion of a clinical residency.
  14. The University of Southern California – This advanced practice doctorate in social change and innovation for agency incorporates development as a practitioner and a scholar. The curriculum consists of 42 credit hours and is offered in a standard or accelerated track. Students are required to complete a capstone project and typically can graduate within three years. Students are offered a variety of scholarships and funding opportunities.

Opportunities as a DSW

Human services, mental health, and social work are rapidly growing fields in terms of accessibility and demand for their services to be integrated into mainstream healthcare. Along with the growing demand for social services, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a projected growth of 9% in the field in the next ten years.

With an increase in educational level comes an increase in available job opportunities and salary. Social workers earn anywhere from $36,520 to $82,840/year with a median pay of $50,390. Healthcare social workers earn within the range of $37,630 to $86,820, and social scientists earn between $50,230 to $133,240.

A career in social work comes with a significant investment of time and energy resources, and committing to a graduate program in the field is a major decision. Knowing if this goal aligns with personal goals is an important consideration. Individuals that thrive in the field have a passion for understanding, evaluating, and enacting change at a micro and macro level. They are sensitive to the needs of their clients and coworkers and want to be of service to others. Individuals have a balance of collaboration with other professionals and multidisciplinary involvement, along with a drive for achievement and independent decision-making. By earning a DSW, you may have more leadership opportunities to make a difference at a higher level. You may be qualified to take on roles as a manager or other leader in a social services organization.

The road to becoming a specialty professional such as a social worker with a DSW is demanding, just considering the educational requirements it entails. However, a major advantage to this field is the variety and flexibility of work environments, job duties, and reach of impact you could have on a broader context. While the job and the journey are rigorous, this is a field that is bound to bring immense fulfillment.

DSW Resources

Association of Social Work Board

Barry University

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Capella University

Council on Social Work Education

Loma Linda University

Millersville University

Simmons University

Southern Connecticut State University

The University of Alabama

Tulane University

University of Buffalo

University of Kentucky

University of Pennsylvania

University of Southern California

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Walden University

CSWE Accredited MSW Programs

No GRE Required MSW Programs

MSW Programs with Advanced Standing Options