Social Work PhD programs are designed for current social workers and those with MSW degrees who wish take their knowledge and skills to the next level. Depending on the program, students may prepare for clinical work, research, teaching or to advance public policy.
Although doctoral social work programs do not lead to a different level of licensure for social workers, you may opt to earn your degree to potentially further your career or as part of continued professional development.
While the Master of Social Work (MSW) is generally considered a terminal degree, earning a doctorate in social work degree could help you advance your practice or prepare to teach at the postsecondary level (according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics). Within social work doctoral programs, the two main terminal degrees are the DSW and the PhD Social Work degree.
The Doctor of Social Work, abbreviated DSW, is a professional doctorate in social work. The Social Work PhD is an academic degree. Each may therefore be better suited to different goals.
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While admission procedures vary between graduate schools for social work, prospective DSW and PhD social work candidates usually need the following.
Typically a full time student earns a doctorate of social work degree in two to five years. This may require the completion of about 48 course credits. Other than that, you are likely to have to pass a comprehensive exam, as well as write and defend a dissertation, or complete a project for graduation.
However, program lengths and course credits vary between social work doctoral programs. Completion times also depend on whether you attend full time or part time.
Social workers may have to fine tune their career intentions to choose between social work doctoral programs. While the choice is between two degrees of similar stature, the DSW and the PhD in Social Work differ. So how does one decide between the two?
The Doctorate in Social Work or DSW is considered a practice doctorate degree. DSW programs may give you the opportunity to conduct practical clinical research and prepare to lead social service programs (e.g. Director of Social Work, according to ONet). Most classes are concerned with the application of knowledge and the implications of research in the field.
The Doctor of Philosophy or PhD in Social Work degree 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 according to ONet. These programs may therefore be more theoretical in nature.
Depending on whether you pursue a PhD or DSW degree, you may have some required coursework in some of the subjects listed below.
Doctor in Social work programs each design their curriculum differently. Contact schools directly for more on available courses.
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 education which might be well-suited for the social worker who has mastered the basics of clinical or advanced generalist practice, is licensed and now wants to pursue their own academic vision. However not all doctorate in social work programs offer every concentration. Therefore be sure you check available options at the schools that interest you.
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While most social work programs require time on campus, online DSW programs may be available for more experienced practitioners. While online programs do diminish interpersonal interactions, it is assumed that you have built these skills with your master’s degree. Online PhD social work programs also have the advantage of being flexible and convenient, which could make them an excellent choice for working students.
On the other hand, social work is a human-centered field, so earning a PhD in Social Work on-campus may have some distinct differences. You could gain access to valuable campus resources, gain practical experience at local partner programs or work with professors on their research projects.
Can't decide? Some social work schools offer a hybrid of both. Hybrid DSW programs may combine campus and online courses throughout the year. Others may rely primarily on online coursework but require short campus residencies.
Every school designs their program differently, so be sure to contact Doctorate in Social Work programs directly to learn more.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits BSW and MSW programs. Doctorate in social work 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.
Doctor in 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.
In most cases, candidates do earn a Master's en route to a Doctor in Social Work degree, so this may not be an issue for you.
SOURCES: [i] bls.gov/OOH/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-4 | [ii] onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1022.00 |[iii] onetonline.org/link/summary/25-1113.00 | Sources for Table: socialwelfare.berkeley.edu/doctoral-program | luskin.ucla.edu/social-welfare/apply-now/phd-social-welfare/ | waldenu.edu/doctoral/phd-in-social-work/curriculum/addictions-and-social-work | socialwork.utah.edu/academics-resources/phd/phd-curriculum/