10 Premium Schools with Online Doctorate in Social Work in 2023

social worker with a family

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that social work jobs will rise to about 9 percent within the years 2022 and 2032. Professionals in Social Work play a significant role in helping people recover or cope with mental, behavioral, and emotional issues. These professionals work in various settings, including hospitals, schools, and private and public organizations.

While a Master of Social Work is the primary requirement to pursue a career as a practicing clinical social worker, obtaining a Doctor of Social Work degree will increase your value and, often, your pay.

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A postgraduate degree opens up more job opportunities, such as roles in leadership or education. It might be easier than it used to be to accommodate a postgraduate degree program into your busy schedule now that there are so many accessible online degree programs.

Online DSW programs vary in terms of coursework, but students can expect the same on-campus material for the top-rated Social Work online doctorate programs.


While the perfect program for a student depends on various factors, such as personal goals and needs, the following Social Work Doctorates made it to our list, as each meets the following criteria:

  • Delivered in an online/hybrid learning format designed to cater to the busy schedules of employed social workers,
  • Offers various opportunities dedicated to student success, such as networking, research, tutoring, and advising, 
  • Taught by faculty with superior teaching skills and expertise in the field of social work practice, research, and leadership,
  • Allows students to take on counseling courses to develop counseling strategies and become better, more effective social workers who possess exceptional critical thinking skills, 
  • Offers online DSW students opportunities to study the latest research from the social work field,
  • Has received accreditation from a reputable accrediting agency recognized by the US Department of Education.

Please explore our Methodology page to learn about our ranking process.

Top 10 Online Doctorate in Social Work Degree Programs

Walden University

Walden University

Doctor of Social Work

Walden University offers one of the choices for practicing social workers seeking an advanced degree program. Walden’s Doctor of Social Work is a 78-quarter credit that can be completed in 2.5 years of full-time study; part-time students have up to 8 years to complete all the required coursework. Online students will have an immersive and exciting learning environment supporting their development as social work leaders.

The curriculum allows students to tailor their degrees by choosing a specialization that aligns with their career goals. The program’s three specializations are:

  • Advanced Clinical Practice and Supervision,
  • Social Work Education,
  • and Impact Leadership in Social Work Administration.

These specialties help students decide where to work and what profession to pursue. While each specialization has its own set of concentration courses, they all have things in common, such as a strong foundation in academic research, possibilities for hands-on practice, and opportunities for fieldwork.

Prospective students must secure a CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work degree with a 3.0 or higher GPA and a three-year full-time social work experience beyond the master’s degree. Additional requirements include a resume, writing sample, recommendation letters, and a statement of purpose.

University of Southern California

University of Southern California

Doctorate of Social Work

The University of South Carolina’s online Doctorate of Social Work program is known for its innovative and cutting-edge curriculum combining advanced clinical and organizational practice and leadership development.

The curriculum aims to train social work professionals to handle complex social issues and drive transformational change in various areas. Students collaborate directly with eminent academic mentors who offer tailored support and direction throughout their doctorate journey.

The DSW program at USC encourages students to learn about social work from various disciplines, including public health, psychology, education, and policy, to enhance students’ knowledge of intricate social concerns.

It emphasizes the importance of using a global perspective when practicing social work. Students can choose to pursue the Standard Track or the Accelerated Track. Both tracks require students to complete 42 units, but the Accelerated Track allows students to graduate faster.

To qualify for the online DSW program at USC, you must have a master’s degree or higher from an institution/program accredited by the CSWE. Additional requirements include five years of post-master professional experience, a resume, writing prompts, letters of recommendation, and official transcripts from all previously attended universities.

Simmons University

Simmons University

Doctorate of Social Work

Simmons University is a top school regarded for its commitment to social work practice, leadership, and advocacy. Simmons’ Doctorate of Social Work is a 100% online program with various optional on-campus intensives that allow students to connect with like-minded people, including faculty, peers, and other professionals. Students can enroll full- or part-time; full-time students can complete the degree in less than 2 years.

Simmons University’s DSW program offers a range of specializations to cater to students’ diverse interests and career goals. These specializations are:

  • Leadership,
  • Advanced Clinical Practice,
  • and Teaching and Education.

Upon completing the required foundational and core courses and research methods, students must complete a DSW Capstone. The capstone project allows students to investigate a real-world issue or problem and present their findings to their peers and DSW faculty members during the last semester.

Applicants must hold a 3.0 or higher Master of Social degree from a CSWE-accredited graduate program and three years of post-MSW work experience. Students will move in cohorts. As a result, new students can begin their studies in September, January, and May; however, they can submit their applications year-round.

University of Kansas

University of Kansas

Doctor of Social Work

The Doctor of Social Work at the University of Kansas is a 42-credit hour program that can be completed 100% online, full- or part-time. The program’s curriculum aims to produce social work leaders capable of handling management and leadership positions in various sectors that find social work services beneficial.

In addition to hearing lectures from advisors, students will be required to construct a framework of best practices for leadership as they progress through the degree. Moreover, the curriculum emphasizes group learning and develops leaders for anti-oppressive social work settings.

DSW candidates at KU obtain advanced clinical skills that help them engage with various populations and tackle challenging social issues. Evidence-based practice therapies, trauma-informed practice, and the incorporation of research into therapeutic decision-making are included in the coursework.

Online students can pursue a practicum component. This will help them further enhance their abilities and understanding by using their academic knowledge in actual social work settings.

Admission requirements include a master’s degree from a CSWE-accredited program and three years of post-master clinical or macro practice experience. KU’s admissions committee favors students whose undergraduate and graduate programs have high remarks. Moreover, a social work license is preferred but not required.

Baylor University

Baylor University

Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work

Practicing social workers seeking to obtain qualifications and abilities to pursue positions in academia and research can consider Baylor University’s online Ph.D. in Social Work degree program. This online doctorate degree program is dedicated to expanding students understanding of social work theory, research, and practice.

The curriculum is meant to give students the abilities they need to do in-depth research and advance the field of social work. Students must complete courses in a synchronous format that uses high-definition classroom technology to connect students and advisors in real-time.

The PhD program curriculum at Baylor University strongly emphasizes advanced statistical methods, quantitative and qualitative data analysis, and research methods. Students take courses that examine contemporary social work theories, policy analysis, and research ethics.

Moreover, students can specialize in particular fields of social work, such as child welfare, mental health, aging, healthcare, or social justice. The program also promotes interdisciplinary research cooperation with other departments or fields.

In addition to the required CSWE-accredited MSW degree and professional work experience, applicants must be able to showcase their maturity, abilities, and readiness for doctoral study. This can be done through submitting impressive graduate-level research or writing papers, high GPAs, and letters of recommendation from social work leaders.

University of Louisville

University of Louisville

Doctor of Social Work

The University of Louisville’s online Doctor of Social Work program is known for having a supportive alumni network and offering online students career support and resources dedicated to their professional success.

Being an R1 institution, students can expect a research-based curriculum that may promote an interdisciplinary approach to social work practice. Students will move through the program cohorts, allowing them to build strong connections with fellow students.

This is a 44-credit doctoral program that places a strong emphasis on advanced clinical practice, administration, and leadership. Students take classes that improve their clinical evaluation and intervention skills while helping them to become more capable leaders who can guide groups, organizations, or community projects.

In addition to online lectures, students must complete a capstone project and defend it in front of 3 faculty members and a mentor.

Interested applicants must submit proof of graduation from a CSWE-accredited program, employment history, personal statement of goals, letters of recommendation, and a writing sample.

Capella University

Capella University

Doctor of Social Work

The online Doctor of Social Work at Capella University is among the best online DSW degree programs for students seeking a Guided Path curriculum. Doctoral candidates must complete at least 14 courses, two virtual residencies, and a capstone. The program emphasizes leadership, advanced practice, critical thinking, and combining theoretical knowledge and real-world experiences.

Students explore various topics, including:

  • Advanced Social Work Practice,
  • Leadership and Management in Complex Social Systems,
  • Clinical Theories,
  • and Advanced Social Work Policy and Practice.

Faculty members at Capella’s School of Social Work and Human Services are seasoned academics and professionals dedicated to offering their breadth of knowledge in social work practice, policy, and research to doctoral students. They’ll provide one-on-one guidance to students at every stage of their postgraduate studies.

Applicants must provide a master’s degree from a CSWE-accredited social work program, a 3.0 or higher GPA, and their official transcripts.

University at Buffalo

University at Buffalo - School of Social Work

Doctor of Social Work

The Doctor of Social Work at the University at Buffalo is designed for practicing social workers seeking an online part-time doctoral degree focusing on Social Welfare. This 39-credit hour doctoral program prepares students for careers in advanced clinical practice and social welfare policy.

With a focus on developing students’ abilities in addressing social challenges and promoting social justice within diverse communities, the program’s curriculum integrates courses that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the practice context.

Students will undergo a rigorous curriculum integrating the school’s trauma-informed and human rights perspectives. The program aims to help students define strengths in applying and assessing evidence-based treatments for vulnerable populations.

Another stand-out feature of this online DSW program is its state-of-the-art digital technologies that allow students to use virtual reality during orientation and lectures, allowing them to interact with each other.

Admission requirements include a CSWE-accredited master’s degree, three academic or professional references, and official or unofficial transcripts. Applicants must also possess a bachelor’s degree in social work with CSWE accreditation that is no more than six years between the conferral of the undergraduate degree and the start date of the master’s program.

Tulane University

Tulane University - School of Social Work

Doctor of Social Work

The DSW program at Tulane University is intended for clinical social workers who want to influence policy and practice to promote a more equitable world. Students learn how to construct an extensive and expert online portfolio and produce a resume highlighting their current professional achievements. Graduates can pursue executive-level positions in sectors that require the help of advanced practice social workers.

The program’s course materials allow students to study several theoretical and empirically supported frameworks for leadership and apply supported leadership techniques and data-driven decision-making to practical scenarios. Students research several leadership philosophies from a multicultural viewpoint and then choose and assess their preferred style.

In addition to online coursework, students must visit New Orleans for the required weekend immersion to interact with their classmates, friends, and professors.

A BSW and MSW degree from a CSWE-accredited college or university with a minimum GPA of 3.3 and at least three years of professional social work experience post-master’s are required. Additional requirements include a statement of purpose, writing samples, letters of recommendation, and official transcripts.

University of Alabama

University of Alabama - Online

Doctor of Social Work

The University of Alabama’s Doctor of Social Work trains students for advanced social work practice and leadership in specialty practice, agency administration, or teaching. Thanks to the program’s cohort format, students can receive ongoing peer assistance throughout the program.

Most of the DSW curriculum can be completed online. However, students must visit the school several times a year, once for an initial orientation and many times for summer residence programs.

The typical duration of this program, which has a 45-credit requirement for graduation, is three years. Students in the program can concentrate on either organizational leadership or advanced clinical practice. Students must also work concurrently in the social work sector through paid employment or volunteer work.

Candidates must have a 3.0 GPA or above on their graduate degree coursework (MSW from a CSWE-accredited university), at least three years of post-master experience in the area of social work, a statement of purpose, official transcripts, and a current social work placement to be considered for this program.

What is a DSW Degree?

DSW degrees are terminal professional programs in social work. The DSW program focuses on developing practitioners’ knowledge, abilities, and expertise in social work so they may better handle complex social challenges, advance social justice, and drive revolutionary change within the profession. The curriculum emphasizes social welfare policy and advanced clinical practice, giving graduates the skills to apply research to practice.

Graduates with a DSW degree are equipped for various social work careers, including leadership roles in advocacy groups, academic institutions, government agencies, healthcare settings, and research organizations. Advanced clinical practice, social policy development and analysis, program assessment, and community intervention are among the career paths made possible by the DSW degree.


Both doctoral degrees are in social work, but the DSW is more practice-oriented and created for seasoned social work professionals looking to develop in direct practice, leadership, or policy. On the other hand, a PhD in social work is more research-oriented and designed to produce scholars and researchers who want to advance the field’s understanding in academia through original research and scholarly publications.

What You’ll Learn in Online Doctorate Degree Programs in Social Work

Social Theories Relating to Clinical Practice

This course aims to give students a thorough understanding of important social theories and how they apply to clinical practice in the profession of social work. The course examines numerous theoretical viewpoints that inform social work practice and their applicability to comprehending social dynamics, individual and group behavior, and the effects of social structures on clients’ lives.

Evidence-Based and Evidence-Informed Practices

The knowledge, skills, and critical thinking required to incorporate evidence-based and evidence-informed practices into professional work successfully are provided to social work students in this course. The course strongly emphasizes the value of making decisions based on evidence to improve the caliber and efficiency of social work interventions.

Clinical Practice Neuroscience

The neurobiological bases of human behavior, cognition, emotions, and mental health are thoroughly explained in this course for social work and mental health practitioners. Students will learn how the brain and nervous system work and how this understanding may influence and enhance their clinical practice.

Psychopathology and Psychopharmacology

These courses provide students with a thorough awareness of mental health disorders and how psychopharmacology is used to treat them. The genesis, diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of numerous mental health illnesses frequently seen in social work practice are covered in this course. It also examines the function of therapies that combine psychosocial and psychopharmacological approaches.

Doctor of Social Work Career Paths

College Professor

Social workers with a PhD are often preferred over those with a practice doctorate. However, many schools allow DSWs and other highly skilled field practitioners inside their classrooms. After leaving the area of practice, many doctoral-level social work professionals finish their careers in front of the classroom. 

Administrative Leadership

DSW graduates can run clinics, treatment centers, hospitals, employee assistance programs, nonprofit advocacy groups, public welfare agencies, and social service organizations. These experts use their expertise to shape social work policy, improving the nature of their profession.

Clinical Therapist

DSW degrees are practice doctorates that allow clinical therapists to pursue challenging careers in psychology, counseling, and client advocacy. Clinical therapists with DSW degrees use a variety of skill sets in their work while using highly developed theoretical practice models, policies, and clinical research understandings.  

Policy Leadership

Getting your DSW equips you with the knowledge and abilities to handle significant social challenges in your neighborhood or greater community. A DSW can assist you in becoming a leader in policy change if you are passionate about bringing about change on a large scale.

Advanced Clinical Practice

Graduates qualify as advanced clinical practitioners, offering specialized and research-based therapy solutions to groups, families, and individuals. They might work in a community health center, private practice, hospital, social service agency, or mental health clinic.

Professional Organizations for Social Workers

National Association of Social Workers (NASW)

The NASW is the country’s largest professional association for social workers. It promotes the industry, establishes criteria for competence, provides networking opportunities, and continues to educate social workers at all levels of practice.

International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW)

The IFSW is an international association that enhances social work theory, advances social justice, and fights for social policies and human rights globally.

Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)

The CSWE accredits social work education programs. It fosters quality in social work education, establishes educational standards, and offers tools for teachers.

Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA)

CSWA promotes clinical social work practice through policy and educational activities.

School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA)

The SSWAA advocates for using social workers in educational contexts and represents school social workers. It provides tools, instruction, and support for school social workers.

National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW)

Through social work practice, advocacy, and research, the NABSW is a professional organization committed to advancing the well-being of black people, families, and communities.

Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)

Social work licensure tests are created and administered by the ASWB. Additionally, it gives social work regulatory boards resources.

Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW)

Oncology and cancer care social workers are supported by the AOSW. It provides access to learning materials, chances for research, and networking.

Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA)

The ACOSA focuses on social administration and community organizing, offering tools and assistance to social workers working at the community and systemic levels.

More to consider: Most Affordable Online Doctorate Programs

Online Doctorate in Social Work - fact

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a DSW degree worth it?

The answer depends on each person’s career objectives, interests, and situation. An advanced degree in social work, such as a DSW, can lead to changes in leadership, research, and academia. A DSW degree is worth it if you want to work in leadership positions, conduct research, or teach at the university level.

Do students need an MSW to earn a Doctor of Social Work?

Depending on the particular doctoral program and the institution, a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree may not be required to pursue a Doctor of Social Work. However, an MSW degree from a CSWE-accredited institution is the most common requirement for most online DSW programs. Some programs may also require an active social work license.

How long does it take to earn a Doctorate in Social Work?

As a full-time student, it usually takes three years to earn a DSW degree and four years for a Ph.D. A part-time DSW and Ph.D. program will take longer—students who work full-time or have other commitments can enroll in part-time programs.

Key Takeaways

  • Experienced social work professionals can prepare for advanced practice, leadership, research, and academic responsibilities with an online doctorate in social work, such as a DSW or a Ph.D. in Social Work.
  • Online DSW and Ph.D. programs could include specialization choices to fit students’ interests and career aspirations. Clinical practice, community practice, leadership, policy and advocacy, or research are just some specializations.
  • The prerequisites for prospective students include a master’s degree in social work or a closely related discipline, relevant work experience, and fulfillment of any additional entrance requirements specified by the program.

Do you need to earn your Ph.D., but you’re in a time crunch? Check out these programs: Fastest Ph.D. Programs

Malcolm Peralty
Chief Editor