Social workers are specially trained to work with families and help provide solutions to poverty, homelessness, and mental health issues.

If you currently hold a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree and are helping families on a case-by-case basis, you may be wondering how you can make a bigger impact.

To amplify the experience gained in day-to-day casework and pursue leadership, faculty, or research positions, there are two advanced degrees to consider: A PhD in Social Work or a Doctor of Social Work (DSW).


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 in 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.


You may also like The Difference Between a PhD and Professional Doctorate.


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.


1. Online coursework. The 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

2. 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.

3. 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 to explore include:

  • Senior social worker
  • Clinical director
  • Human services director
  • Nonprofit executive



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

Important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended this program.
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