Ph.D. in Social Work vs. Doctor of Social Work: Which Suits You Better?

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Updated: February 22, 2024, Reading time: 4 minutes

Ph.D. in Social Work vs. Doctor of Social Work - featured image

Move up the social work career ladder with a Doctor of Social Work or a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work degree. Knowing the similarities and differences between the two enables you to determine the right education required for your career trajectory.

Ph.D. in Social Work vs. Doctor of Social Work - fact

Social Work programs at the doctorate and Ph.D. levels both require a Master’s in Social Work program that takes two years for full-time students.

Either degree program takes a social worker a step further academically so that professionally, they can qualify for higher-level and better-paying positions with a larger impact on the industry.

On average, social workers earn $55,350 annually, but this figure increases commensurate to the advanced skills and positions of the professional. The employment demand is expected to rise to 7% between 2022 and 2032, resulting in nearly 64,000 openings each year.

Let’s explore the similarities and stark differences between a Ph.D. in Social Work and a Doctor of Social Work program:

Probing the Ph.D. in Social Work

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A Ph.D. in Social Work is ideal if you’re pursuing the research or academic field. You can choose a specialization that highlights your expertise. You might need three to five years to finish your degree as a full- or part-time graduate student.

Ph.D. in Social Work Coursework and Career Paths

The PhD in Social Work courses include Qualitative Scientific Methods and Survey of Research Methods, and Social and Behavioral Science. Social Work PhD students must also complete a teaching practicum.

With a heavy focus on theoretical data and research, PhD in Social Work graduates pursue these types of work:

Discovering Doctor of Social Work

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DSW programs are offered online and in on-campus formats. A number of DSW programs delivered via distance learning can take as little as two years! A DSW degree allows social workers to acquire advanced knowledge in areas including policy analysis, research, and supervision. 

As professionals, Doctors of Social Work showcase their expertise in research, policy formulation, and training. They are often hired in healthcare facilities and offices, child welfare agencies, and non-government or community development organizations.

DSW Coursework and Career Paths

DSW students complete courses in Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Criminal Justice, Social Work Administration, Family Studies, and Disaster, and Crisis and Intervention. Consequently, graduates become qualify for these Doctor of Social Work jobs:

Here’s a summary of the distinct differences between a PhD in Social Work and a DSW:

Ph.D. in Social WorkDSW
Program Focus– Research and experiential learning
– Rigorous coursework in preparation for the dissertation
– Policies and leadership abilities
– Rigorous coursework and a capstone project
Program Output Requirement– Dissertation
– Clinical internships
– Capstone independent action research project
– Fieldwork
Benefits of the Program Equips professionals to create evidence-based practice and policies at the local and national levels-Produces competent experts in social work administration, policy making, and agency leadership
Suitable Candidate– Interested in research and teaching
– Able to research pressing topics at the Ph.D. level
– Pursues further opportunities in social service leadership and management while still holding a license.
– Able to work as an advanced practice clinical social worker, social work administrator, or social and community services manager

What About Social Work Licensure?

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Typically, social workers need a license to practice. Some states welcome Bachelor of Social Work degree holders from Council on Social Work Education-accredited schools to fill entry-level positions. They are considered Licensed Baccalaureate of Social Work (LBSW) after passing the Association of Social Work Boards exam and fulfilling other prerequisites in the state where they wish to practice.

Social workers earn the “social worker” title based on the license they obtain: 

The ASWB also determines a social graduate’s eligibility to sit for licensure, which varies per state.

Holders of an MSW degree are officially considered social workers in most states. With a DSW and PhD in Social Work degrees in their belt, they can qualify for higher positions and pursue teaching work.

The Final Word

Remember that, regardless of educational attainment, a social worker is expected to be an excellent communicator who is patient, compassionate, organized, genuinely interested in people, and willing to find solutions to problems.

Additional Resources:

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