Boston MA PHD in Social Work | Social Work Doctorate Degrees

Why Earn a DSW or P.h.D. in Social Work?

Social workers who hold a master’s degree in social work and are interested in an advanced degree in social work might choose either a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) or a P.h.D. in Social Work program. Whether you are interested in clinical practice, researching, teaching or writing about issues that impact the human condition, enrolling in a Social Work PhD or Doctor of Social Work –DSWprogram might warrant consideration. Although social work doctoral programs do not lead to a different level of licensure for social workers, as a professional you may opt for a doctor of social work program to potentially further your career or as part of continued professional development.

PhD in Social Work Program Information- Social Work Doctoral Programs

What is a Doctorate Degree in Social Work?

Within the social work profession, the Doctor of Social Work, abbreviated DSW, is a professional doctorate in social work, which might offer advanced training in a professional area of social work practice. While the Master of Social Work (MSW) is generally considered the terminal degree, earning a doctorate degree in social work might prepare graduates to for administration, teaching or clinical practice. Within social work doctoral programs, the two main degrees are the DSW and the PhD in Social Work, and while both are advanced degrees, both Social Work Doctoral Programs, there are differences to consider between them.

Potential Admission Requirements to Social Work PhD & DSW Programs

While admission procedures vary between graduate schools for social work, prospective DSW and PhD social work candidates usually need:

  • To have earned a MSW degree from a CSWE-accredited school
  • Experience in the field, submit resume
  • GRE scores
  • Application statement (purpose)
  • An aptitude for writing, conducting research, and analyzing complex findings

How Long Might It Take to Get a Doctorate Degree in Social Work?

While program lengths and course credits vary between schools and whether you attend full time or part time, it might take two to five years to complete a DSW degree program. This may consist of about 48 course credits. Other than that, you are likely to have to pass a comprehensive exam, as well as write and defend your dissertation, or complete a project for graduation.

What Are the Main Types of Social Work Doctoral Degrees?

The two types of Social Work doctoral degrees are the (Doctor of Social Work) DSW and the (Doctor of Philosophy) PhD Social Work Programs. Most graduate schools offer one or the other.

FACT: When asked about their education level, 65% of BSW Program Coordinators responded they had earned a Doctorate degree[i]

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Is There a Difference Between a DSW and PhD in Social Work?

When it comes down to choosing Social Work Doctoral Programs, social workers may have to fine tune their career intentions to choose between the DSW programs and PhD Social Work programs. While the choice is between two degrees of similar stature, the DSW and the PhD in Social Work differ. To be sure, during their professional careers, social workers are required to continue their professional education to maintain their state licensure . This is certainly one reason to move from a Bachelors Degree (BSW) to an MSW or to pursue a post-master’s graduate certificate in social work. So how does one decide between the two Doctor of Social Work Programs?

DSW Programs

The Doctorate in Social Work or DSW is considered a practice doctorate degree. This means that it may give you the opportunity to conduct practical clinical research and lead social service programs (e.g. Director of Social Work)[ii].

PhD in Social Work Programs

The Doctor of Philosophy or PhD in Social Work is considered more research-oriented and may emphasize educational practices. Graduates typically seek advanced careers in research or academia (e.g. Social Work Professor or Program Coordinator)[iii].

DSW PhD Social Work Potential Curriculum

Depending on whether you pursue a PhD or DSW degree, you may have some required coursework in subjects that might include:

  • Social methods
  • Social change
  • Leadership and advocacy
  • Research practice and methodology
  • Statistics and social sciences
  • Theories of social work
  • Social work data analysis
  • Quantitative research in social work
  • Qualitative social work research
  • Social work pedagogy
  • Counseling services

Social Work PhD Concentrations

Typically, doctoral students choose a program concentration to focus their research. This could be issue-related (drug addiction, mental health, cancer patients) or population-related (child welfare, seniors, veterans). Alternatively, a Social Work PhD student might choose a pertinent issue in the larger context of advocacy, prevention and causes of child abuse, or policy and implementation. There are many options at this level of your education which might be well-suited for the social worker who has mastered the basics of clinical or advanced generalist practice, is licensed – and who now wants to pursue their own academic vision.

Are PhD & DSW Programs Available Online?

Graduate schools may offer  earning your DSW degree on-campus, hybrid DSW programs, or online DSW social work programs. While online programs do diminish interpersonal skills, it is assumed that you have built these with your master’s degree, so distance-learning may be a great option. On the other hand, social work is a human-centered field, so studying on campus may have some distinct differences. GradSchools.com makes it easy for you to pinpoint the DSW and PhD Social work program that aligns with your professional and academic goals. Once you have chosen between the real and virtual classroom learning systems, you can generate listings in either the online or campus formats. Or, you can look for graduate schools by location; filter results by using the city, state or country tabs.

Find an Accredited DSW Degree or Social Work PhD Program

Doctoral social work programs, unlike the MSW programs, are not subject to programmatic accreditation. However, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) considers faculty qualifications when evaluating programs for accreditation – having faculty with doctoral degrees is a plus.

What is the Council on Social Work Education?

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits BSW and MSW programs; doctoral programs have other standards applied. Since regulations vary between states, your state board may state that a doctoral program must be in a school that has an accredited master's program -- or that the university itself have regional accreditation. In most cases, candidates do earn a master's en route to a doctoral degree, so this may not be an issue for you.

Take the Next Step

For graduate students and current social workers who aspire to work in administration, academia or research, the choice to enroll in a Social Work PhD or DSW program may be a great way to potentially advance in your chosen career. Whether you are interested in a clinical or leadership role, browse our sponsored program listings. Use our on-page navigation to contact prospective graduate schools. Take the next step today!


sources[i] onetonline.org/link/summary/25-1113.00 |[ii] onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1022.00 |[iii] 

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