What Is a DSW Degree?

Graduate School Programs in Social Work

There are plenty of acronyms mentioned in the graduate school world. If you're looking to advance your career in the social work arena, what is a DSW degree? 

Graduate Social Work Degrees: Earning a DSW

The doctor of social work (DSW) is a specialized degree for social workers who wish to gain advanced training in research, supervision and policy analysis. This is a more advanced degree compared to a master of social work, or MSW.  The MSW is also an advanced degree, but the DSW offers the most advanced, in-depth education into this area. People earning a DSW typically want to focus their careers on clinical practice or administration.

A DSW differs from earning a Ph.D., which is typically more focused on research and is better for those who want to pursue careers in academic or research settings. As a DSW, as with a Ph.D., you would be considered a "doctor." In general, someone with a DSW degree would be more focused on a clinical career -- either practicing directly with patients or leading a group practice -- while earning a Ph.D. puts you into the academic world. Students enrolled in a Ph.D. program would learn more about the theoretical principles of social work in general, as well as participating in scholarly research. They will also obtain more skills to become an expert in the academic field. Only a Ph.D. can teach at a university.

In a DSW program, the course work tends to emphasize research, qualitative and quantitative analysis methods, as well practice and supervision issues. Graduates engage in teaching, research, leadership roles, or in private practice. They must seek licensure, which varies by states in the U.S. 

That said, you may not need a DSW degree to become licensed or certified in this field. Most states require that counselors have a master of social work, but some states allow social workers to practice directly with patients even if they only have a bachelor-level college degree.

Typically the degree entails two to four years of coursework, and a doctoral candidacy examination, followed by dissertation research.

Which programs are the best? Grad School Hub did some research on programs. They evaluated 65 accredited institutions that provided online doctoral degree programs in social work or related fields such as clinical psychology, counseling psychology, general counseling, or counselor education. Some of their top picks include DSW programs at Baylor University, Northcentral University, Florida Atlantic University, and Walden University.

After You Graduate

In addition to getting any licensing or certification credentials, graduates who get a DSW often continue working in the field. According to Salary.com, professors in social work earn an average of $86,073, while those in the top 10 percent earned at least $152,622 per year.