Benefits of a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) Degree

For most professional social workers, their biggest educational step is earning a Master of Social Work degree, or MSW. That’s the degree most often required to earn jobs in social work, as well as to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

But many working professionals, as well as social work students, have a desire to continue their social work education beyond a master’s degree level. For those students, there generally are a few options for doctoral education — Ph.D., Psy.D. or DSW.

Your mileage may vary, but let’s explore the biggest benefits for the average social worker or social work student in pursuing the DSW, or Doctor of Social Work.

Practical Focus Area

Through about the middle part of the 20th century, the only doctoral option out there for students of fields like social work was a Doctor of Philosophy degree, or Ph.D. But the advent of both the DSW degree, which emerged in the 1940s, and the more recent Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), which started being offered in the 1970s, changed that.

Both the DSW and Psy.D. were built to provide the hands-on training required to do clinical work in social work, psychology, counseling and other areas. Ph.D. programs, on the other hand, tend to focus more heavily on research and academic study in those respective fields.

DSW programs include a rigorous course of classroom study, to be sure, but these programs include curriculum focusing on the hands-on or clinical application of social work practice. Psy.D. programs, likewise, are generally considered clinical doctorates, and they have quite a bit in common with DSW tracks.

But social work programs tend to focus more heavily on things like counseling and crisis intervention, whereas Psy.D. programs will generally lean more heavily into understanding the biological influences on human behavior.

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Access to Higher-Level Jobs

This may seem like an obvious point, but doctoral programs of any kind, DSW tracks included, can help elevate and expand a professional’s career options. But for social work professionals and students who want to contribute to public policy in social work, or who want to lead instruction in the area, DSW degrees are ideal.

SEE ALSO: DSW vs PhD in Social Work

These higher-level jobs will usually come with higher salaries but also increased levels of responsibility. Potential careers that become a real possibility after earning a DSW degree include:

  • Nonprofit Director
  • Public Policy Advocate
  • Social Work Professor
  • Social Work Administrator
  • Advanced Practice Social Worker
  • School Social Worker
  • School Counselor
  • Adoption Counselor
  • Social Service Manager

Social workers in the United States earn a median annual salary of about $50,000, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But, of course, completing a doctoral program will boost an individual’s earnings potential, and on the higher end of the scale, social workers can expect to earn upwards of $80,000.

SEE ALSO: Salary Outlook with Ph.D. in Social Work Degree

Social service managers in the 90th percentile of annual earnings make about $112,000, which means the potential for earning a very high wage is elevated the further one goes up the social work educational ladder.

Program Flexibility

Some but not all DSW programs are offered online. In fact, most people consider the DSW program offered by the University of Pennsylvania to be the best in the country, and even this incredibly well-regarded program is completed mostly online.

SEE ALSO: List of Accredited Online DSW Programs

Because this degree is so heavily focused on the practical applications of social work study, many institutions are well aware that most of their students are probably working professionals in the field. That’s a big reason why it’s quite common to be able to find DSW programs that will allow professionals to continue their careers while they earn their doctoral.

This is less common with Ph.D. programs in social work, and while it’s slightly more common for Psy.D. programs to be offered online, their programmatic focus on psychology may not be the right fit for most social work students.

Most programs also include a doctoral dissertation process, and this allows students to study, research and publish about topics that interest them, and this means that every student’s DSW course can be unique to them.

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Professionals and students who are dedicated to the practice and advancement of social work will probably find a great many reasons beyond what we’ve listed above to consider earning a Doctor of Social Work degree. As the pinnacle achievement in the academic study of this field, pursuing and earning a DSW can benefit not only the earner but the entire community in which they practice.