There are two options available for experienced social work professionals looking to obtain a doctoral degree: a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and a Doctor of Social Work (DSW), both advance an individual in their social work education and careers.
The difference between them lies in the focus of the programs.
A DSW is more practice-focused and is ideal for students who want a higher clinical degree and to provide advanced clinical services to clients. Furthermore, this academic qualification provides a strong knowledge base for social workers who assume leadership roles in guiding mental health and social service programs.
A Ph.D. is focused more on developing you as a researcher. This degree is for social workers who would like to progress their careers in academia or research settings where they will conduct research that guides social programs.
Either type of doctoral degree in social work prepares graduates to hold advanced positions in the clinical and research fields.
Is it worth getting a doctorate in social work?
A doctoral degree in social work is ideal for master’s degree holders if their career goal is to hold advanced positions in their field.
A doctoral degree is a definite benefit if you are considering a career in advanced clinical practice or for leadership positions at a non-profit or at a clinical organization.
A Ph.D. in social work emphasizes scholarship and is ideal for those interested in a career in higher education or research.
What are the admission requirements?
Professionals with these accreditations are experts in their field. As acceptance on social work Ph.D. programs is extremely competitive, you should think about applying for a minimum of 5 or 6 programs.
- Degree: To be eligible for a Ph.D. or DSW program, applicants typically need to have a master’s degree in social work. Some institutions will accept applicants holding a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited master’s degree in a related field.
- Professional Experience: Some programs expect candidates to have a specific amount of field experience. Other programs only ask students to complete professional experience during the Ph.D. program.
- Minimum GPA: Many programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA. Some programs may allow professional experience to be used to offset a low GPA.
- License: Some Ph.D. programs stipulate that candidates must already hold a license, but others permit students to acquire licensure while studying for their degree.
- English Level: International students must take and submit Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores
- Transcripts: Applicants arrange for their official undergraduate and graduate transcripts from previous schools to be submitted.
- GRE Scores: Candidates for Ph.D. social work programs usually need to submit their GRE scores. Minimum results needed vary for different programs, and other criteria may override standardized test results.
- Letters of recommendation: These may also be required. These should come from advisors and, or professors who can attest to the candidate’s abilities.
Online Ph.D. programs often have additional admissions requirements.
What will I study for the doctorate?
Core concepts and coursework
Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) and Ph.D. course elements can vary considerably, but there may be similarities between the programs. Students studying for a Ph.D. will generally find that their studies are focused on advanced research methods, behavioral science, theory, policy, and teaching. DSW programs include courses emphasizing advanced clinical practice, clinical research, and advanced practice leadership.
- Social Theories and Clinical Practice
- Social Welfare Policy
- Social Work Administration
- Ethics in Social Work
- Evidence-Based and Evidence-Informed Practices
- Neuroscience for Clinical Practice
- Critical Analysis of Clinical Practice
Ph.D. in social work coursework
- Quantitative Scientific Methods
- Study of Research Methods
- Social Work Research and Public Policy Issues
- Statistics and Data Analysis
- Teaching in Higher Education
- Dissertation Direction
Will I need a social work licensure?
Because a master’s in social work is the highest degree possible for clinical practice, there is no specific licensure for doctoral graduates. Doctoral graduates will, however, be licensed to practice at the master’s and clinical levels in most states.
What jobs are there for a doctoral degree in social work?
Graduates that hold doctoral and Ph.D. degrees in social work can find employment in a variety of fields and disciplines. Some examples include:
- Administrator (DSW)
- Clinical Director
- Clinical Social Worker
- College or University Professor (PhD)
- Executive Director
- Human Services Director
- Licensed Social Worker
- Marriage and Family Therapists
- Non-profit Executive
- Researcher (PhD)
- Senior Social Worker