What’s the difference between a PhD in Social Work and a DSW?

Generally speaking, a PhD prepares you to teach, while a professional doctorate is more geared toward a professional career.

If you currently hold a Master’s of Social Work (MSW) degree and are wondering how you can make a bigger impact, you may be considering a PhD or a doctorate. So which is right for you? The following information may help you decide.


What’s the Difference?

PhD in Social Work: A doctor of philosophy heavily emphasizes research and educational practices. Graduates of PhD in Social Work programs typically seek careers as an academic researcher or professor.

Doctor of Social Work: A professional doctorate emphasizes social work practice, applied research, and leadership. DSW graduates typically seek careers as social service leadership and administration or as an extension of their social work practice as a licensed social worker.

Many universities offer either the DSW or the PhD in Social Work.


Capella University’s DSW Program

Capella offers a Doctor of Social Work program, one of the few DSW degree programs available online. It’s designed around national doctoral social work guidelines, and offers a strong focus on leadership, advanced practitioner skills, and the growing use of technology to expand the reach and effectiveness of social service programs.

The program includes coursework, in-person residencies, and a capstone project.

Online coursework – Curriculum teaches critical thinking, research methods, and the integration of degree knowledge with practical experience. Core courses include:

  • Advanced Social Work Practice: Theoretical Perspectives
  • Leadership and Management in Complex Social Systems
  • Advanced Social Work Policy and Practice
  • Clinical Theories of Social Work Practice 1 & 2
  • Advanced Social Work Practice with Diverse Populations in Complex Systems
  • Advanced Social Work Practitioner as a Leader of Social Change

Doctoral Research Seminars with in-person residency – As part of the program requirements, you’ll complete two doctoral research seminars. These seminars are designed to prepare you for your capstone early in the process. Each begins with an online course, followed by an in-person residency, where you’ll engage with faculty and peers to develop your research plan.

Capstone – A doctoral capstone is intended to extend or apply research to solve a real-world problem and advance the practice in the field. Although similar in scope and rigor to a dissertation, the final deliverable can take various formats.


Career Possibilities with a DSW

This degree is ideal for social work professionals who want to move beyond daily case management and directly lead other social workers, conduct practical research, or lead social service programs.

Related job titles include the following:

  • Senior Social Worker
  • Clinical Director
  • Human Services Director
  • Nonprofit Executive


Learn more about Capella’s Doctor of Social Work degree program.