Online DSW Programs

Students interested in helping people face a wide range of challenges, such as a terminal illness diagnosis or child adoption, may find themselves drawn toward a career in social work. Social workers work with clients of all ages and backgrounds, including children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly.

They may work with clients who have mental health issues, physical disabilities, or vulnerable children; they also assist clients who are in need of housing services and federal benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Consider an online counseling program: Syracuse University’s CSWE-accredited online Master of Social Work program is preparing the next generation of social work leaders. Learn more.
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Within the field are numerous entry-level jobs for applicants who have completed a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field. However, licensed clinical social workers interested in pursuing advanced roles, such as in administrative leadership, social welfare policy research, training, or teaching college classes, often find they need a postgraduate degree, such as as an online Doctor of Social Work, or an online DSW.

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Doctor of Social Work Degree Programs

Students enrolled in undergraduate degree programs in social work often find their curricula are similar to coursework found in psychology and sociology programs. However, DSW programs online provide advanced training for licensed clinical social workers interested in pursuing management and leadership roles. Online DSW programs often include coursework in classes such as social work leadership, intervention research, data-driven decision-making, ethics, diversity and social justice, as well as advanced clinical practice with groups, individuals, and families.

How to Choose an Online DSW Program

Students researching DSW programs should consider several factors, including each school’s tuition and fees, curriculum, and doctoral concentrations. The most popular DSW doctoral concentrations include administrative leadership, clinical social work, criminal justice, social welfare, military behavioral health, and public policy administration.

Standard vs. Accelerated Track

Many DSW programs online allow students to choose between a standard or an accelerated track. The coursework and credit hour requirements in standard and accelerated track programs are the same; however, the difference lies in each track’s average completion time. For example, students on a standard track may take 42 credits over nine semesters, whereas students on an accelerated track may take 42 credits over seven semesters.

Dissertation Requirement

Prior to graduation, students interested in pursuing a DSW degree will need to complete a dissertation: a research-based academic paper based on original research. Each school’s department head determines the required length for the doctoral dissertation; most dissertations are 45,000-90,000 words and span 100-200 pages.

Doctor of Social Work Online Program Accreditation

Students pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work must be enrolled in an accredited program, which will allow them to apply for state licensure. Program accreditation ensures that the school’s content meets accreditation standards that the Council on Social Work Education’s Commission on Accreditation (COA) has set.

However, the council doesn’t currently accredit Doctor of Social Work online or in-person programs. According to the council’s website, the COA voted to pilot the accreditation of practice doctoral programs at its June 2020 meeting, adding that the operational infrastructure to support the pilot accreditation process will be developed. As of April 2021, information regarding when the pilot will begin isn’t yet available.

DSW Programs Online vs. In-Person Learning

In the past, on-campus DSW programs were the standard for individuals looking to complete a doctorate in this field. While some students still prefer a brick-and-mortar experience, an increasing number of students are enrolling in DSW programs online.  

Aspiring DSW candidates should know that the curricula of online and on-campus programs are often identical: The primary difference is that online students have the flexibility to learn on their own schedule. Similar to on-campus DSW programs, online programs build off the foundations that students developed in their undergraduate and graduate studies. Most programs require students to complete 42-65 credit hours, depending on the college or university they attend. 

Although some online DSW programs require applicants to hold a master’s degree in social work, others simply require applicants to have completed a master’s degree in a related field, such as a master’s in psychology or sociology.  

Application Requirements for Online DSW Programs
Application requirements for online DSW programs vary by institution, although common requirements include the following:

  • A master’s degree in social work (or a related field) from a college or university that the Council on Social Work Education has accredited
  • A minimum GPA or quality point average (QPA)
  • Between two and three years of relevant clinical practice experience 
  • Letters of recommendation from past professors or professional colleagues 
  • A statement of intent that indicates why you’d like to pursue a DSW at the institution you’re applying to 
  • A nonrefundable application fee

Additionally, whereas some schools require applicants to submit a copy of their GRE results, others schools don’t. 

Associated Timelines

The time it takes to complete DSW programs online varies from person to person. For example, students enrolled in an accelerated program often complete their degree faster than those enrolled in a standard program. However, most full-time students find they can complete their degree within three years. Part-time students, on the other hand, may take five years or more to complete their degree.


DSW Degree Salary Ranges and Career Outlook

According to August 2020 data from PayScale, the average annual salary for a professional with a DSW was $76,000, although professionals in the top 10% reported earnings of more than $140,000. Salaries for DSW holders vary based on factors such as whether they work for a public, private, or nonprofit institution; the geographic region where they work; and their years of experience in the field.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that overall employment of social workers is projected to grow by 13% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the projected average for all occupations. An increased focus on integrated health care services, an aging population, and treatment as opposed to incarceration for substance abuse issues are all reasons for the strong growth prospects for the period.

In addition, in the same period: 

  • Employment of child, family, and school social workers is projected to grow by 12% 
  • Employment of health care social workers is expected to grow by 14% 
  • Employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers is projected to grow by 17%. 

Job prospects for licensed clinical social workers are expected to be very good, especially for candidates with an advanced education. 

Earn Your Doctor of Social Work Online

Are you ready to take your career in social work to the next level? Explore some of the most popular online DSW programs. You’ll find detailed information about each program, including coursework, application requirements, and programs that are currently accepting applicants.

List of Programs

Syracuse University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Northwestern University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

University of Southern California 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Capella University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters 🗗 Doctorate

Fordham University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Northwestern University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Pepperdine University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

University of Southern California 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Pepperdine University 🗹 Online

Capella University 🗹 Online Masters

Our Lady of the Lake University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Pepperdine University 🗹 Online

Northcentral University 🗹 Online Courses Start Weekly

University of Denver 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Liberty University 🗹 Online

Capella University 🗹 Online Masters

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) 🗹 Online 🗗 Bachelors

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Capella University 🗹 Online Doctorate

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