Social Work Doctoral Programs

A doctoral degree in social work will not lead to a higher level of licensing. However, there are good reasons to consider one. Professionals opt for doctoral degrees to advance the profession and to advance their own careers.

social work doctoral program student

A doctoral degree is a huge asset if a person is considering a career in social work education. The Council on Social Work Education, the organization which accredits U.S. baccalaureate and master’s programs, considers faculty qualifications when evaluating programs for accreditation. One consideration: having faculty with doctoral degrees. The CSWE is hardly unique in this regard – doctoral degrees are largely the standard for academia.

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A social work doctorate can also be an advantage for higher level administrative positions. Still another reason social workers enroll in doctoral programs: They have a passion for research. They may aspire to present at conferences or publish their findings in respected journals. Some are interested in working as principle researchers. Others are more interested in finding answers to the elusive problems that their own clients face.

Doctoral degrees are largely the standard for academia.

And then there’s the matter of achieving parity with other practitioners. A master’s is considered the terminal degree in social work and in some other fields like professional counseling. However, some fields have moved to the doctorate as a terminal degree. Psychologists have doctoral degrees. Physical therapists have them. Practitioners sometimes feel that they are better able to sit down with other leaders and shape policy if they have the higher degree.

But it’s not just a matter of elitism or of degree creep. Healthcare is becoming more complex. Research – sheer knowledge – is growing exponentially.

Types of Social Work Doctoral Programs

There are two types of social work doctorate: the DSW and the PhD. The Doctor of Social Work or DSW has traditionally been considered a practice doctorate, as opposed to a research degree. It’s the newer degree, but it’s actually far from new. The first DSW programs came into being in the 1940’s – when today’s retirees were mere children.

There is a difference between DSW and PhD programs… sometimes. The title of the degree may have as much to do with its history as its current requirements. Each degree has had times in history when it was favored. If a school offers both degrees, one can expect the PhD to be the research-heavy one. However, most schools offer one or the other.

There are two types of social work doctorate: the DSW and the PhD

While it’s important to consider the focus of the program, it’s also important to look beyond the initials. Even programs that emphasize practice can have a very different focus. Some emphasize administrative work, others clinical work. A doctoral social work program may require a traditional dissertation, or it may include some other type of project.

Most programs require that candidates hold a master’s in social work and have some experience out in the field. However, an exceptional BSW may sometimes find a spot.

A 2011 task force, chaired by Richard Edwards of Rutger’s University, made a recommendation that all DSW programs limit their admissions to candidates who had a master’s and a couple years’ experience out in the field. One reason is that most states don’t actually require a candidate for licensure to earn a master’s en route to a doctoral degree. Doctoral social work programs, unlike master’s ones, are not subject to programmatic accreditation.

While the amount of variety can be a concern in certain instances, it can be a plus for the social worker who has mastered the basics of clinical or advanced generalist practice, who has been licensed – and who now wants to pursue their own educational vision.

Finding a spot will be easier if a candidate has strong references, solid GRE scores, and a compelling purpose to communicate in her application statement.

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