Mar 08, 2021
The doctorate of social work (DSW) attracts working professionals who have the goal of increasing their leadership skills in a clinical social work setting. Unlike the PhD in social work, which is more research-based and offers a path to working in academic settings, the DSW focuses on the practice of working with individuals, families, and communities on critical issues such as homelessness, gun violence, and foster care. To minimize career disruption, some DSW programs have moved all or part of their curriculum online, making earning the degree more convenient than ever.
How do I know which online DSW programs are the best? How much will my salary increase after earning an online DSW? Should I get a PhD instead?
This guide answers important questions and addresses key issues that prospective DSW seekers need to know. Personalize your search by finding which doctoral options make sense for you, and start and narrow your program search here.
Top Online Social Work Doctorates for 2021
Identifying the “best” DSW programs is subjective and depends on your specific wants and needs from a higher education program. The top online DSW for you might not be the right choice for someone else. We’ve collected data on all the blended and online DSW programs in the U.S. to help you make the college choice that’s right for you. We’re also spotlighting a few DSW program to familiarize you with what’s available this year.
The University of Tennessee at Knoxville
The DSW online program at UT Knoxville is designed for professional social workers already engaged in clinical practice who are looking to elevate their careers into leadership roles and advanced clinical practice. This program is notable for the convenience it offers students who are working full time in clinical practice while attending school. Courses are presented in a combination of synchronous and asynchronous features. Synchronous learning consists of real-time components, while asynchronous learning offers students the ability to complete coursework at a time that works for them. UT’s online DSW program is accelerated so that students can finish their studies in three years while working full time. Tuition for out-of-state students is $775 per credit, while in-state students pay $700 per credit.
New York University
The Silver School of Social Work at NYU offers a doctorate in social work in a hybrid, partially online program that enables students to maintain their full-time professional commitments while completing their degree. The three-year program requires students to take 19 classes over the course of eight semesters and enables them to complete the program in three years. In-person class time is limited to Wednesday nights during spring and fall semesters and Monday and Wednesday nights during the summer section. Elective courses can be taken at different NYU branches. One notable aspect of this program is that instead of having to write a dissertation, students are required to write and publish two papers and present their work at a symposium. Tuition is $1,412 per credit, but the school offers financial aid and scholarships to DSW students.
Tulane University’s DSW is a 54-credit program that students can complete in as soon as three years, though they have the option of taking more time if they wish. It’s designed for those already working in the social work field who want to elevate their careers with a doctorate. Every DSW student is required to attend an immersion weekend in New Orleans, where Tulane is located. This not only gives students the opportunity to meet each other and work together, they also get to experience the culture and flavor of New Orleans. The cost per credit for the online DSW program at Tulane University is $1,198.
Benefits of the Online Doctorate in Social Work
For many working professionals today, earning a doctorate can be a challenge. Not necessarily because of the coursework itself, but due to the time and energy it takes to attend class, coordinate with fellow students and professors, and conduct research, all while trying to keep a clinical practice thriving. The good news is, many colleges and universities have acknowledged this difficulty and have added an online element to their DSW programs. Whether fully or partially, these online DSW programs are making it much easier for social work leaders to advance their educations and eventually their careers.
What Types of Online DSW Programs Are There?
Each student’s academic and professional wants and needs are different, which means the right program for one person may be a less-than-ideal choice for another. Let’s start the program journey by reviewing some of today’s most popular online DSW program options.
Doctorate in Social Work Learning Outcomes
Most DSW programs anchor their curriculum to specific learning goals or outcomes. These outcomes guide both students and faculty and ensure that graduates leave the program ready to impact change. The University of Southern California (USC), for example, has connected its online DSW program goals to the 12 Grand Challenges of Social Work established by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. These challenges influence the courses and research direction of the program to meet the learning goals accomplished by students upon earning the degree.
Identify as a leader and educator in the social work field.
With the expertise and knowledge obtained in the DSW program, graduates are known experts and therefore leaders in their profession.
Use evidence-based practice and apply critical thinking.
Ability to focus on examination of key literature, establishing evidence-based processes, data collection, analysis, and synthesis, and the strengths and weaknesses of evidence its application to direct practice.
Problem identification and solving.
Use research, communication technologies, and knowledge of human behavior to create processes and goal setting strategies with clients.
Embody ethics and professional behavior.
Expert knowledge of acceptable and ethical behavior in social work and ability to model behavior for other social workers. Ability to put personal beliefs aside and adhere to best ethical practices in social work.
DSW Specializations: Discover Where Your Strengths Lie
Because the DSW is a practical doctorate and mostly for mid-career professionals, applicants should already know where their interests lie. This means that choosing a degree track may not be as difficult with a DSW as it could be with a PhD. However, your desired specialization could direct you toward or away from certain social work doctorates. If you’re searching for just the right online DSW program for your career path, consider the following specializations:
Timeline: How Long Does It Take to Get a DSW Online?
The time it takes to earn an online DSW depends on whether you plan to study full-time or part-time. Each program has different course load minimums and maximums that can influence your timetable. The standard requirement for completion of all coursework, exams, and dissertation is five years, but some programs may allow as many as eight years from start to finish. Below is a general timeline for study, though programs will vary.
What’s the Difference Between a DSW and a PhD in Social Work?
Like a number of subjects that involve working with patients and students in a service-oriented setting (public health, education, psychology), social work has two higher educational options at the doctoral level. The Doctor of Philosophy in social work, also known as the PhD in social work, and the doctor of social work, aka the DSW. Both degrees can support academic and career advancement and help social work professionals boost their earning potential. Which one of these advanced degrees makes the most sense for you?
If you thrive in a hands-on environment and prefer to make a difference with patients directly, a DSW program may be the best fit. Interested in teaching others and advancing the field through research? Explore PhD programs to move your career forward. If you still need input, talk to someone with each degree or to a professor who teaches in each program.
Are Online DSW Programs Accredited?
When it comes to higher education, the right accreditation matters. A few colleges and programs claim to possess accreditation from entities that sound professional and official. With social work doctorates, however, make sure every institution has the following:
Applications & Requirements
You have a master’s in social work, a decent GPA, and four years of work experience in a clinical setting. Your resume shines, and you have more than enough high-caliber people ready and willing to craft recommendation letters on your behalf. You even scored well on the GRE six years ago before your graduate work began. But you still may be asking: Can I get in to a DSW program?
It’s true that admissions standards can vary as much as the programs themselves. However, applicants should be prepared for a few common denominators; the requirements that pop whether you’re seeking admission at an Ivy League juggernaut or a smaller regional university. Here’s a quick look at the core DSW prerequisites and if there’s any wiggle room to play with.
Tuition and Fees: Paying for Your Online DSW
Don’t necessarily assume you can’t afford to get your doctorate degree in social work. Tuition and fees aren’t cheap for any doctoral programs, but chances are you’ll be able to find a program that fits both your academic and financial needs. Here’s a quick look at the in-state cost of some of today’s most popular online DSW programs, as well as four key ways you can drive that cost down even further.
Note: DSW programs want motivated, hard-working students who can make a positive impact in the field of social work, and most offer financial assistance for students who show promise and need. As any programs you’re interested in about the following financial aid options:
Social work scholarships.
Students pursuing a DSW can find merit-based scholarship opportunities from a variety of sources, including foundations and associations dedicated to excellence in social work as well as the schools themselves. GADE has a great starter list of scholarships and other funding sources open to advanced social work students. Scholarships can range from a few hundred dollars to full-tuition coverage.
Grants come from multiple sources including the federal or state government, private businesses, colleges, and non-profit organizations. They can be general in nature (for all students in financial need), or target a specific population of students, e.g., veterans, foster care youth, students with disabilities, under-represented populations, or those who may be pursuing a certain career.
Fellowships in social work.
With these funding options, students receive assistance paying for tuition and fees, and they may earn a stipend for other expenses. In exchange for funding, DSW students engage in social work research in areas such as policy or veterans’ welfare. You can find a list of social work fellowships at the National Association of Social Workers Foundation.
Salaries in Social Work
Social work is about helping people, but even the most talented and hardest-working social work professional needs to know that an advanced degree will be worth their time, energy, and money. The average annual salary for someone with a PhD in social work or a DSW is $74,779, while the salary for a master’s degree holder in social work is $54,016. Keep in mind that these are average salaries and both location and experience impact salary. Here are some of today’s most popular careers and salaries for doctorate social work degree holders, according to PayScale.com: