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DSW vs PhD in Social Work: What are the Differences?

DSW vs PhD in Social Work: You may be thinking of pursuing a doctorate in social work (DSW) or in philosophy (Ph.D.) if you have a master’s degree in social work (MSW) or are currently a student pursuing an MSW. potentially doctoral degrees have notable differences, but they could potentially help you grow in your social work profession. This article compares the DSW and Ph.D. in social work and describes the job roles that either degree can lead to.

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

Schools of social work may offer on-campus DSW programs for students pursuing a DSW degree. There are numerous online DSW programs, however, that you may finish in two to three years if you are unable to attend on-campus classes or require schedule flexibility. Specializations may include addiction and social work, clinical expertise, criminal justice, family studies, medical social work, social work policy, and social work administration, as well as catastrophe, crisis, and intervention, however suitable career pathways may differ from student to student. Reviewing each expertise to determine whether it could fit with your goals may be helpful.

Typical specialties could be:

  • Social work policy: This program trains students to create laws that aid particular groups and supply vital resources like food and housing. These PhD students frequently examine social work theories and methodologies that aid in the creation of superior documents.
  • Addiction and social work: Concentrating in this field equips students to work with people, families, and communities who encounter problems associated to addiction. It enables them to give services for intervention and prevention as part of their treatment practice.
  • Criminal justice: Students who specialize in criminal justice study issues such as criminal conduct and public safety measures. This curriculum is frequently created by universities to teach students critical understanding of specific concerns pertaining to the criminal justice system as well as skills to handle these issues in their practice.
  • Child and family social work: Students who specialize in this field are prepared to deal closely with children and families both within the foster care system and when adopting children. It teaches them essential counseling skills so they can interact with families and offer support services more effectively.
  • Social work administration: By completing this specialization, students are prepared to create policies and plans for managing social services inside a company. It provides the information that PhD graduates need to serve the public in a range of settings, such as hospitals and schools.
DSW vs PhD
DSW vs PhD in social work

Although prerequisites for admission to programs leading to a doctorate in social work can differ, they may include:

  • A social work master’s degree from a recognized university (Some programs allow applicants who have a master’s degree from an approved university in a related subject, such as psychology.)
  • Transcripts
  • GRE results
  • A minimum G.P.A. of 3.0
  • Recommendation letters
  • Job experience connected to the field.

Every program will probably have a different set of courses. However, as they develop in their studies, students can anticipate using current research and data, social work best practices, moral decision-making, and advanced theory to advocate prevention or intervention tactics that cater to the requirements of a social group or social problem. You may be able to achieve your goals by choosing one of the many specialties offered by some programs, like policy practice and criminal justice. Students frequently have to finish a DSW dissertation, capstone research project, and an in-person residence.

Also Read: Fully Funded Social Work Masters Scholarship in 2023

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work

For students interested in a career in academia or research, a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in social work might be the best choice. This degree may offer specialties in areas like mental health, children and families, or substance misuse, yet social work employment routes differ from person to person. Your decision is up to you: Make sure to look over the many specialties that are offered to determine if they might fit with your career objectives or desired employment placements. Similar to the DSW, Ph.D. in social work degree programs are available in both on-campus and online forms. Depending on whether you enroll full- or part-time, it could take you three to five years to finish your degree.

Although there are several requirements for entering a Ph.D. program in social work, the following are frequently required:

  • A master’s in social work from a recognized institution (Some schools will accept a master’s degree from a recognized college in a similar discipline.)
  • GRE results
  • GPA and the transcript
  • A resume and employment history that is relevant
  • Recommendation letters
  • Job experience connected to the field
  • Samples of writing

A Ph.D. in social work program’s curriculum differs between institutions. Students might anticipate a Ph.D. program to emphasize cutting-edge research techniques and using those talents in the actual world, nevertheless. In order to focus on issues like child welfare, poverty, mental health services, addiction, gambling, health, and violence against women and children, some may offer research opportunities with professors and institutions in the neighborhood. Policy, instructional strategies, theory, proposal development, and statistics might be covered in a typical course. A dissertation is occasionally necessary to obtain a doctorate in social work.

Also Read: 8 Free Online Radiology Courses With Certificates

DSW vs PhD
DSW vs PhD in Social Work

DSW vs PhD in Social Work: The Differences

Your own career goals, interests, and skills will all play a role in the PhD degree you choose to pursue. The following are some typical distinctions between a DSW and a social work Ph.D.:


The breadth of these programs and the kind of coursework they call for are two significant ways in which a DSW and a Ph.D. in social work differ from one another. A candidate for a doctorate in social work often focuses on performing in-depth research in the field, using that research in various contexts, and determining whether particular approaches are effective. Meanwhile, a DSW candidate may occupy influential roles in the neighborhood and apply these insights to their own counseling practice.

Advanced research and theory are the main topics covered in courses in a Ph.D. degree. Students in this kind of program may also have the chance to work with instructors on projects that address social work concerns like child welfare or poverty. After that, students usually finish a dissertation based on their initial research. The primary objectives of DSW courses are to educate students on industry best practices and how to address societal issues. Research projects and on-site residencies are frequently completed by students.

Admission procedure

DSWs and social work Ph.D. programs may have slightly differing admissions standards. DSW candidates may just need a postgraduate degree in a relevant discipline, such public health, although Ph.D. candidates in social work normally need a master’s degree in the same field. A DSW school may demand candidates to submit a personal statement outlining their present practice and long-term professional ambitions, whereas a Ph.D. program in social work may ask for proof of the student’s research experience.


Graduates with a DSW frequently land jobs in hospitals, educational institutions, nonprofits, detention centers, social work groups, and child welfare agencies. A professional may apply their new talents into their services if they already have a private practice. Graduates may also choose from the following professions:

  • Child welfare adviser
  • Public policy analyst
  • Mental health clinician
  • Nonprofit managing director

Ph.D. holders in social work may choose to focus on a particular area of study. They frequently pursue academic careers at universities or research positions with specialist companies. As a result, people frequently look into the following professions:

  • Social work research consultant
  • Government researcher
  • Salaries
  • College professor
  • Field researcher

The location and industry of a job are only two examples of the many variables that can affect a job’s salary that may call for a DSW or Ph.D. in social work. DSW graduates frequently have access to pertinent employment in a variety of workplace settings, including legal companies and governmental organizations.

  • Public policy manager: $76,615 per year
  • Managing director: $102,893 per year
  • Child welfare specialist: $48,471 per year
  • Licensed professional counselor: $67,640 per year

Ph.D. holders in social work may obtain high-paying research posts as well as prestigious teaching roles in academic institutions. If a professional receives tenure from an institution, their amount of academic experience may have an impact on their pay. Following are some samples of incomes for graduates with a doctorate in social work:

  • Research consultant: $61,040 per year
  • Research specialist: $50,488 per year
  • Professor: $53,547 per year
  • Research scientist: $79,259 per year

Social Work Skills

A DSW often gives social workers and other professionals the chance to advance their administrative and practice-related abilities. DSW graduates can therefore use their understanding of theory and counseling methods to act as community leaders. For instance, they might use their abilities in teamwork to assist patients in learning coping mechanisms for a mental health problem or their understanding of social theory to create public health policy for a particular demographic. Additional instances of DSW graduate talents include the following:

  • Patience
  • Advocacy
  • Empathy
  • Active listening
  • Cultural awareness

Professionals have the chance to advance their research and teaching abilities, including quantitative methods, social statistics, and curriculum creation, through a Ph.D. in social work. As a result, these graduates can add significant knowledge to the field of social work by utilizing their theoretical understanding and research abilities. For instance, they might instruct undergraduate students using their pedagogical expertise, or they might research a specific demographic to examine a social problem. Additional examples of competencies for a Ph.D. social work graduate include the following:

  • Report writing
  • Organization
  • Logical reasoning
  • Data collection
  • Problem-solving

What Degree is the best fit for me?

Whether a DSW or a Ph.D. in social work is best for you may depend on your personal and professional objectives.

The ideal applicant for a DSW can aim to broaden their scope of practice as a certified social worker in the fields of leadership and management in social services. A DSW may equip you with the information and abilities needed to work in a variety of positions, including advanced practice clinical social worker, manager of social and community services, and social work administrator.

A potential Ph.D. applicant is someone who could want to shape the future of social work through instruction and research. You might have the chance to instruct tomorrow’s social workers while conducting research on current problems at the doctoral level.

Your battle for social justice and the betterment of people’s lives and communities around the world as a licensed social worker with a doctoral degree, whether it be a DSW or Ph.D., is essential for the wellbeing of society today and generations to come. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a growth rate of 13% for social workers from 2019 to 2029, indicating a continuing increase in demand for their services.

DSW vs PhD
DSW vs PhD in Social Work

Frequently Asked Questions

You can start deciding what job paths interest you after you are aware of the distinctions between a DSW and a Ph.D. in social work. You might, however, still have inquiries. For your research, we’ve explored some of these below.

What is a Ph.D. in social work good for?

A graduate with a Ph.D. in social work may choose to focus on a particular area of interest and pursue careers as a researcher, educator, administrator, or policymaker. Your training and expertise as a Ph.D. holder enable you to influence the future of social work through a senior position in higher education or a research-focused or nonprofit organization.

What can a DSW degree get you?

Employers in the healthcare industry, therapeutic settings, and social work organizations, among others, may hire DSW graduates. Professionals with a doctorate in social work can work as nonprofit directors, advanced practice social workers, social or community service managers, or administrators.

Is a social work doctorate worthwhile?

Investments in education require both time and money. You must determine the worth of a social work doctorate. While this advanced degree is not the best option for every student, you should only think about authorized universities to make sure their programs satisfy the highest standards of quality and adhere to strict practice guidelines.



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