Best DSW Degree Program + Online

The following article explains why you should consider working towards your Doctor of Social Work (DSW). It explains the different specialities available for study in your DSW program, how to select the right program, joint degrees, accreditation information, and understanding the many career options available.

What Is a DSW Degree?

A Doctor of Social Work degree is a terminal professional degree in social work. This is the highest level of degree you can earn in social work, and typically takes approximately five years to earn. Once you have earned this distinguished degree, you can take your place at the pinnacle of social work leadership in many organizations, and possibly pursue a faculty position at a university in social work or social services.

Most professionals who earn their DWS have already earned their master’s degree in social work, or MSW, and want the additional expertise and skills that a DSW offers.

Why Earn a DSW Degree?

The social work field is growing rapidly and offers many excellent employment opportunities. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the employment for all social workers will increase by 12% by 2024, which is a solid growth rate.

However, there are specific fields of social work that are poised for faster growth: healthcare social workers will see 19% growth, while mental health social workers will experience 19% growth as well.

Another reason to earn a DSW degree is that the salary for the highest degreed social workers is $76,000 per year, according to BLS.

Many people also work in the social work field because they want to feel like their job has a purpose. For many social workers, helping other people deal with problems and challenges in their lives – some of which are not their fault – is extremely rewarding.

To make sure you get the best possible headway in this field, you should decide which type of DSW you want. There are a variety of specialties from which you can choose, and we highlight the most popular ones later in this article.

You also need to understand that earning a doctorate in social work is a serious commitment of your time, and could take up to five years full time. Fortunately, you can earn this degree online in some universities, so you can continue to work at least part time and attend to your personal obligations.

Choosing Your DSW Degree Path

If you think that earning your DSW is something that you are passionate about, you will need to decide which speciality or career field is the one for you. Some of the most popular specialities for social workers include:

  • Family social worker: This type of social worker protects children and assists families who are in need. They most often help families to find essential services such as housing, food stamps and child care so they can work. These social workers also get involved when children are being abused or neglected.
  • Clinical social worker: This is a licensed social worker that is qualified to diagnose and treat many varieties of mental, emotional and behavioral disorder. Some of the most common issues they deal with include anxiety and depression.
  • School social worker: You will work with teachers, parents and administrators to come up with plans and strategies that will boost the self esteem and performance of students.
  • Healthcare social workers: These are highly specialized social workers who help patients to better understand their illness or disease. They will help these patients to change their healthcare, lifestyle or housing so that they can get over their medical condition.

Online DSW Degree Options

Fortunately, there are several good online doctorate in social work programs from which you can choose. A highly regarded program that you should think about is the DSW program at Rutgers University. This accredited program is partially online and takes three years to complete with full time study.

This program is unusual because the subject matter for a given semester will dictate how long the professor spends on the topic. Throughout the three year program, you will be working constantly in writing workshops that are done both online and on campus. The purpose is to help the student to synthesize all of the information taught in this modular system, and to help students to produce scholarly work that is eventually published.

Coursework is in three primary areas: clinical foundation, clinical practice and engaged scholarship. The program requires you to complete 54 credits.

The program focuses on the student developing a strong portfolio of written articles and white papers that is built around narrativized case studies, which the professors believe are highly relevant for practicing social workers.

To be considered for admission, you must have the following:

  • A MSW from a program that is accredited by the CSWE
  • At least two years of social work experience after your MSW
  • License to practice social work must be current
  • License to practice clinical social work is preferred
  • Essay
  • Interview
  • CV
  • Writing sample
  • Three letters of recommendation


Before you apply for any social work program, be sure that the program is properly accredited. This is very important for online DSW programs. Proper accreditation tells you and potential employers that you have learned the most important social work leadership and scholarship information in your college program. This can be very helpful in ensuring that you have a successful career after your doctoral program.

Currently, the best accreditation for the social work field is offered by the Council on Social Work Accreditation (CSWE). You should verify that this body has accredited your program. Most employers will expect that your degree program has been accredited by the CSWE.


Earning your DSW can be an excellent career move as it allows you to develop the most advanced social work scholarship skills. You also have the opportunity to produce many scholarly papers that can eventually be published, and this can help you to influence the social work field in a positive way.