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What Is the Difference Between a PhD in Social Work and a Doctor of Social Work?

Discover the differences between two social work doctoral degrees.

The field of social work is vast, with degree programs to prepare you for the many career choices you will have. For those who wish to pursue licensure in the field, a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree is what most people will seek. However, if you wish to go beyond that, a doctorate in social work can take your learning to a new level. While there is no higher level of licensing associated with a post-master’s level of education, those who want to teach at the college level or become administrative leaders in the field may wish to consider pursuing a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) degree or a PhD in Social Work. But what are the differences between these two degrees?


In short, students who pursue a PhD in Social Work will be well-prepared to teach social work at the university level. Students who choose a DSW degree can gain the skills to be a leader in the field of social work. But there are other differences between the two degrees.

  1. Curriculum. This is probably the biggest difference between the two doctoral degree programs. Walden University is an accredited institution that offers both, and the two programs offer the same specializations: Advanced Clinical Practice and Supervision, Impact Leadership in Social Work Administration, and Social Work Education. However, the curriculum and requirements differ between the degree types.
  2. Learning experience. Walden’s online DSW program offers an immersive learning experience that includes online simulations to help you strengthen your teaching skills. Similarly, the immersive learning simulations offered in the PhD in Social Work program focus on the skills you would use in the field.
  3. Admission requirements. Both programs require a CSWE-accredited MSW degree, meaning the MSW must be earned from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Walden’s DSW program additionally requires a minimum of two years of full- or part-time post-MSW practice experiences.
  4. Capstone project. The DSW online degree program requires a capstone independent action research project, while the PhD in Social Work online degree program requires a dissertation. The capstone research project allows DSW students to select a need in their community or an everyday problem and develop a solution. The dissertation enables PhD in Social Work students to contribute original doctoral research that incorporates their data analysis, critical thinking, and academic writing skills to the social work field.
  5. Residencies. Students participate in one four-day virtual residency in the DSW program, while students in the PhD program complete four PhD residencies.
  6. Credits. Walden’s DSW students complete 78 quarter credits, and the PhD in Social Work students complete 83 quarter credits.

Whether you choose to pursue a DSW or a PhD in Social Work, earning an online doctoral degree can prepare you to be a leader in a career focused on helping others. In fact, demand for social work professionals is expected to increase 12% by 2030, which is much faster than the national average.1 A doctorate in social work can help you take the next step, whether that’s starting a nonprofit organization of your own or teaching the next generation of students earning their social work degrees.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering online Doctor of Social Work (DSW) and PhD in Social Work programs. Expand your career options and earn your doctoral degree online using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Career options may require additional experience, training, or other factors beyond the successful completion of these degree programs.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,