10 Best Online Doctor of Social Work Degrees

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Updated: March 11, 2024, Reading time: 19 minutes

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Social work is one of the most satisfying and most in-demand careers today, which, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, is expected to grow 7% from 2022 to 2032. Social workers deal with the outside forces that affect an individual’s circumstances and viewpoint.

Additionally, these professionals foster chances for assessment and intervention to assist clients and communities in efficiently coping with their reality and, if necessary, changing it.

The world is different from before and evolving rapidly, and now more than ever, we need social workers to help deal with the complexity of the modern world, including problems with mental health disorders, sexual identity, aging, drug and alcohol abuse, and many others. As a result, more and more professionals in the field are taking an interest in taking their social work skills and knowledge to the next level through online DSW degree programs.

Quick audio summary:


A Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) degree provides advanced social work training that undergraduate and graduate programs cannot offer. While online DSW programs vary, students commonly focus on clinical social work and social work administration and specialize in social work leadership, advanced clinical practice, or social work education. 

Online DSW programs are offered in synchronous and asynchronous formats and may also call for on-campus residencies and a capstone project, usually held over the summer or on weekends. Students who want to enroll in an online DSW program have many choices.


A Doctor of Social Work program provides advanced courses in the discipline, qualifying students for executive-level positions in industries where the expertise of social workers is required for specific programs. DSW graduates also qualify for research-intensive positions in various settings, as well as teaching positions in the academe.

We’ve put together the country’s leading graduate schools and programs offering a Doctor of Social Work online to help you decide on the best online doctorate for you:

Check out our Methodology and explore how we rank our online doctorate programs.

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

The 10 Best Online Doctor of Social Work Programs

The University of Alabama

The University of Alabama - School of Social Work
Doctor of Social Work

The University of Alabama offers a Doctorate in Social Work focused on clinical practice or organizational leadership track that can be completed primarily online. Students must complete 45 credit hours, including 18 credits of specialization, 21 core credits with six electives, and 4 or 5 days of on-campus summer visits for three years.

This cohort-based, highly selective DSW program is one of the best when it comes to collaboration activities and networking opportunities.

Prospective students are required to hold a master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program with a GPA of 3.0 (average) and at least three years of post-MSW experience.

Due to its competitive nature, this online social work program requires doctoral students to attend an on-campus orientation before starting classes. This opportunity prepares students for their incoming doctoral degree journey and gives them their first chance to create networks.

Walden University

Walden University
Doctor of Social Work

Walden University offers a Doctor of Social Work degree that is available online. Students are required to complete 58 credits, including a capstone or research project comprising five credits per term that can be completed in four years and two on-campus plus two online residencies.

Students can quickly start their studies at the time of year that works best for them because Walden offers a variety of start dates throughout the year.

Applicants should hold a master’s degree in social work from a program accredited by CSWE with a minimum of 3.0 GPA and at least three years of clinical social work professional experience.

One of the best features of this social work online program is its transfer credits. Students in the social work doctoral program at Walden University can transfer up to 20 credits earned from a previously attended program or university. This allows students with prior studies to complete the online DSW program earlier than anticipated.

Simmons University

Simmons University
Doctor of Social Work

Simmons University offers a Doctor of Social Work degree that can be completed online. The program’s curriculum, which focuses on three major areas: inclusive leadership, advanced clinical practice, and teaching and education, prepares DSW students to become well-rounded scholar-practitioners.

Due to the fact that most interested students are working professionals, the program allows students to choose between full-time or part-time study.

A master’s in the relevant discipline is required for applicants to the online doctorate program in social work, and two years of work experience is preferred.

Students in the online degree program must participate and succeed in the capstone research project to help them develop data-driven decision-making skills. Students can explore virtually any or all of the three curricular focus areas and take their knowledge to new heights.

While the capstone allows students to choose their own delivery format – whether it be an online course, an interactive website, or an idea for their future patient base – the project allows each doctoral student to truly push themselves forward as a healthcare professional.

Capella University

Capella University
Doctor of Social Work

Capella University offers a Doctor of Social Work degree that is available online. Students complete 71 credits, including 12 core courses, two residencies, and a doctor capstone project. This program’s curriculum strongly emphasizes leadership, advanced practice, critical thinking, and the fusion of theoretical knowledge and real-world experience.

Applicants must hold a master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program with an average of 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale. Students without professional work experience are welcome to apply for the online social work program.

Unlike most DSW programs, DSW students at Capella University are required to participate in professional doctoral project development seminars. This opportunity offers a head start on your program by developing their critical thinking skills and confidence.

The seminars provide the space and tools students need to concentrate on their capstone topic, approach, literature review, and research strategy to make steady progress toward their objectives.

Tulane University

Tulane University - School of Social Work
Doctor of Social Work

Tulane University offers a Doctor of Social Work degree that is available online. Students are required to complete 54 credits, including core credits, specialization, and immersions, that can take three years of full-time study. The DSW program offers flexible part-time and full-time curriculum schedules for online students because it was created with working students in mind.

Applicants are required to hold a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work and have an average GPA of 3.3 in both coursework. Students must also have three or more years of post-work master’s experience in a social service agency or a comparable level of experience.

Through a curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking abilities linked to planning, analyzing, and implementing programs and policies, Tulane University’s online DSW program aims to prepare social workers for executive-level roles.

Students in Tulane’s DSW program are obliged to participate in an immersion weekend in New Orleans as part of the DSW program.

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania - Social Policy and Practice
Doctor of Clinical Social Work

The University of Pennsylvania offers a Doctor of Clinical Social Work program that is available online, with the exception of two 5-day immersion experiences that take place at the start of the program and in the summer after the first year of enrollment.

Students are required to complete classes in applied statistics, social work education, and trauma-informed social work practice. Because the program was designed to help active clinical social workers, the program is fully customizable to help students create a more flexible degree plan.

Applicants are required to hold a master’s in social work degree and have at least three years of post-MSW experience.

UPenn is one of the best schools to apply for financial aid opportunities. UPenn doctoral students are automatically considered scholars in the SP2 Scholarships Programs. Students can expect to receive full tuition and a stipend for at least four years.

University at Buffalo

University at Buffalo - School of Social Work
Doctor of Social Work

The University at Buffalo offers a Doctor of Social Work degree program that is available online. Students are required to complete 39 credits that focus on human rights and trauma-informed practice for a currently licensed social worker and a capstone project. Students must have access to a specific clientele to complete the capstone assignment.

Applicants should hold a master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program, have a GPA of 3.0, and show at least three years post-MSW practice experience.

Students in the professional doctorate get to choose between asynchronous and synchronous class formats. Asynchronous sessions allow students the flexibility to complete required work within a set time frame and deadline, while synchronous sessions require students to join on a specified day and time for live video sessions.

Students will receive advice from faculty members regarding how many synchronous sessions are necessary for each subject.

University of Southern California

University of Southern California
Doctor of Social Work

The University of Southern California runs a Doctor of Social Work program that is available online. The DSW program offers a standard track and an accelerated track, both of which require students to complete 42 credits and a capstone project for the last three semesters.

Students will use models from their courses to solve one or more of the 12 Grand Challenges in Social Work in the Design Laboratory for Social Innovation I and II, including a financial management course.

Applicants should be Master’s in Social Work degree holders who attended a CSWE-accredited school and must have five years of post-MSW experience in a social work setting.

This degree promotes strong peer engagement and collaboration during live online classes through online breakout rooms, live chat, and document sharing. The USC doctorate in social work is tailored towards “working professionals who desire to have a bigger influence in their practice,” as opposed to academic degrees.

University of St. Thomas

University of St. Thomas
Doctor of Social Work

The University of St. Thomas runs an online Doctor in Social Work program. Students are required to complete 45 credit hours of coursework, including 2-week on-campus summer residencies and dissertation. This degree program was designed to help active social workers obtain a doctorate without altering their current work-life schedules.

Applicants are required to hold an MSW degree from a CSWE-accredited program with a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale, three years minimum of post-MSW social work practice experience, and prior teaching experience in higher education.

The University of St. Thomas faculty collaborates with St. Catherine University to provide students with a targeted online educational experience. This is the first online DSW program to specialize in training social work faculty exclusively for university-level teaching and leadership in higher education.

University of Kentucky

University of Kentucky - College of Social Work
Doctorate of Social Work

The University of Kentucky offers an online Doctor of Social Work. Students must complete 42 credit hours and an additional one-week summer residency. Students may select one of three concentrations after completing the core curriculum: clinical social work, administrative leadership, or military behavioral health. Students can enroll in the DSW program either full- or part-time.

Applicants are required to hold an MSW degree from a CSWE-accredited program with a minimum GPA of 3.0 and IT skills. They must also have at least two years of social work/human service practice experience.

The DSW program at the University of Kentucky uses the Core Plus model, which gives students a flexible, cost-effective, and quick approach to finishing their degree. While the cohort model and residence week provide support through focused time with classmates and professors, the Core Plus offers flexibility, allowing learners to advance through the program at their own speed.

Common Courses for Social Work Doctorate

Grant Writing and Administration

Effective grant writing is crucial for social workers to function effectively. This course teaches students how to find, draft, budget, monitor, and administer grant funding opportunities. This is particularly helpful for prospective non-profit leaders, neighborhood activists, and top executives in any industry.

Large Complex Systems Leadership

Students take this course to learn how to design, fund, and administer extensive social services and educational initiatives at the local, state, and federal levels. Leadership techniques, funding and budgeting, outcome evaluation, inclusion and exclusion of people and groups, and the political ramifications of program policies are among the subjects discussed.

Public Discourse Leadership

This course helps students develop their public speaking skills to increase involvement, civic engagement, and public support for their social services programs. Social connectivity, program transparency, and the effects on vulnerable and at-risk people are all highlighted.

The use of social media techniques, including how to develop and assess social media marketing campaigns, is highlighted.

Social Science Theories

This course examines conventional and modern conceptions of social science, primarily through academic works on social work practice, field journals, and literature on public policy. Students broaden existing theories to promote social justice and policy reform in public service.

Teaching in Higher Education

This course combines social work-specific teaching strategies with general pedagogy, curriculum development, and instructional design skills. The subjects focus on an industry-relevant curriculum that aligns with evidence-based social work principles, and students learn how to teach a college-level social work course.

Social Welfare Policy Analysis

This research-heavy course looks at how social welfare policy is now being implemented in the United States. The course culminates with an empirical policy study in which students formulate questions and hypotheses in a chosen focal area.

Advanced Social Work Policy and Practice

Advanced-degree social workers frequently find themselves in situations where they must understand public social policies and how they connect to different people and groups and the community. This course helps student in developing and assessing policies emphasizing social justice, diversity, and global effect.

The role of ethics in forming public social policies is one of the topics discussed, along with policy advocacy and analysis.

Advanced Social Work Practitioner – Leader of Social Change

This course teaches DSW students how to create and explain their distinctive approaches and social work leadership styles. One of the course’s components is a review of different leadership philosophies, techniques, competencies, advocacy tactics, and technological options.

Common Career Paths for Doctor of Social Work Graduates

College Professor

A social work professor teaches students at a college or university social work-related courses. Your duties in this profession could also involve holding department chair or other school faculty positions. Many employers demand that you conduct specific research in your area of specialization and publish your results in books or journals that have your approval.

Licensed clinical social worker

These mental health experts offer counseling and therapy to clients with psychiatric disorders and may also help them with problems related to jobs, housing, and other facets of daily life. Although some LCSWs work in private practice, you may usually find them in hospitals, clinics, rehab programs, and other medical establishments.

Clinical sociology and counseling-related undergraduate and graduate degrees are typically necessary for this position.

Social service consultant

Social service consultants develop and improve the policies and procedures that direct social services programs. High-level consultants frequently participate in intricate analytical and evaluation tasks and administrative responsibilities.

Most companies in social work demand at least a master’s degree, and others may favor applicants with more education than is necessary.

Professional Associations in Social Work

Professional associations offer a wide range of beneficial tools for both recent graduates and students pursuing an online DSW. Professional organizations will help you access online journals and trade periodicals, job postings, and in-person networking events to help you grow as a professional social worker. 

American Clinical Social Work Association

The Center for Clinical Social Work, which controls standards and certification for the American Board of Examiners in clinical social work, is the parent organization of ACSWA. The association’s online network for social work students offers resources like a list of clinically relevant e-books, discounts on liability insurance, and information on scholarship opportunities.

National Association of Social Workers

More than 120,000 people worldwide are represented by the NASW, which was founded in 1955. The association provides two certifications, professional social work, and advanced practice specialty, along with a vast array of continuing education courses about many social work specialties.

Network for Social Work Management

NSWM offers health and human services managers instruction, training, mentoring, and coaching. The NSWM International Mentorship Program enables seasoned members to collaborate with up-and-coming experts worldwide, and the network’s Doctoral Scholars Institute hosts a conference for DSW holders to present and discuss their research.

School Social Work Association of America

SSWAA is a prestigious professional organization that works to support social workers who are promoting the social and emotional development of K–12 students in school settings. The National Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Common Core standards were created by SSWAA, the only national organization in this field.

For school social workers, joining SSWAA is the best way to gain access to practice materials, academic papers, publications, and useful items to improve their function on the school team.

Council on Social Work Education

CSWE, a non-profit national society, has more than 2,500 individual members despite being best recognized for accrediting social work degrees. Members will receive monthly email newsletters, annual subscriptions to the Journal of Social Work Education, and a 10% discount on additional CSWE products.

Members who attend the CSWE Annual Program Meeting have the opportunity to network with other change agents.

Best Online Doctor of Social Work (DSW) Degrees - fact

Social Work Licensure

A person seeking to become a social worker will probably need a license. Some states require licensure for professionals to use the title “social worker,” and social work licenses serve as proof of the education and experience of social workers. Although not necessary in all states, social workers without licenses could have trouble getting jobs.

Several types of licenses are available to social workers. Aspiring professionals can typically pursue certification as:

The amount of further education and training depends on the level, with LSWs needing the least and LICSWs needing the most.

Some states grant individuals with a Bachelor of Social Work an entry-level license. You might be able to perform a range of social work duties with this license, but you’ll likely need to do so under the supervision of a more experienced professional.

The next licensure level in most states calls for at least a Master of Social Work from a recognized institution. A doctorate in social work is accepted as an alternative requirement in several states. These graduate degrees are simple to obtain through online MSW programs without the GRE or even expedited MSW programs.

You might also need to pass a test, complete supervised work hours, and get a graduate degree. There might also be further conditions, such as background checks and fingerprinting.

Additionally, there will be a cost when you apply to your state licensing board.

Doctorate of Social Work vs. Ph.D. in Social Work

A DSW and a Ph.D. in social work both lead to doctoral degrees. However, there are several significant differences between the two, such as:

Despite having numerous commonalities, these are the most important differences between the two degrees. Students can select the educational path that will best suit their needs by being aware of these distinctions and their most typical professional choices.

What is a DSW program? 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a DSW program? 

A DSW program is a social work doctorate that provides advanced policy analysis, supervision, and research training. Programs for DSWs may aid in preparing social workers to take on leadership and administrative roles in their particular areas of social work.

How long does earning a Doctoral degree in Social Work online take?

DSW program typically requires students to complete coursework of 42 to 52 credits plus on-campus and online residencies. Full-time students can typically finish their DSW degree requirements in two to three and a half years after completing the final project and residency requirements.

Part-time students complete the program for up to five years, depending on how many credit units they take each semester.

How much does an online Doctorate of Social Work cost?

Several variables affect how much doctoral programs in social work online cost. State residency is a crucial factor to consider because many schools and institutions charge more for out-of-state students. Some institutions, however, provide a set tuition fee for online learners regardless of residence.

Another essential cost is technology expenses, which frequently only apply to students who attend classes online rather than in person.

An online social work doctorate typically costs between $915 and $1,730 per credit. Students’ total tuition should range from $38,000 to $90,000.

What are the most common admission requirements for an online Doctorate in Social Work?

Most online DSW programs only accept applicants with a master’s degree in social work, and some schools have requirements that this degree must have been earned through a Council on Social Work Education-accredited program.

Additionally, some schools demand social work professional practice experience of three years.

Other admission requirements of DSW programs online include a writing sample, research interests, a personal statement, a previously attended university, a resume, and a minimum GPA.

Is a DSW degree worth it?

A DSW degree, as opposed to an MSW, may offer more information for people seeking to further their careers as social work leaders, researchers, or administrators. The value of a DSW degree for you will depend on your job objectives and time constraints for pursuing a postgraduate degree.

Key Takeaways

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