Is a Doctorate in Social Work Worth it?

When looking at graduate and professional programs in social work, one question is more important than perhaps all others combined: Is a doctorate in social work worth it? There are a number of really great, immersive programs in social work that range from graduate programs to PhD and DSW options for students who intend to practice social work or teach new students the skills necessary for success. In a highly competitive job market and a world where educational services are expanding at a pretty rapid rate, it's probably safe to say that it's never a bad idea to pursue a more advanced degree and open up new opportunities in either social work or instruction. The DSW itself has some unique advantages that make it a great option for today's social workers.

PhD vs. DSW: Aren't They the Same Degree?

Though both a PhD and a DSW program both result in a doctoral degree, they actually award different kinds of doctorate degrees that are applicable to different kinds of future professions. The key thing to understand is that a PhD is almost always awarded as a "Doctor of Philosophy" degree. This means students have learned about the theoretical nature of social work, have engaged in a great deal of scholarly research, and have been taught the skills they need to become leading figures in academia. This is a degree designed for future social work instructors more than future social work leaders and administrators.

The DSW degree is more practical in its focus. Rather than focusing so heavily on philosophy, theory, and research, the DSW program is typically concerned with highly advanced skills in the social work profession. This means the degree is a better fit for those who intend to continue in the social work sector after graduation, rather than transition primarily to a role in academia. The program is most often pursued by existing or aspiring administrators, executives, and department leaders, who need the right combination of practical social work skills and advanced managerial concepts to guide them through this advanced role.

For Industry Leaders, a DSW is a Great Option But Not a Requirement

The Doctorate in Social Work is a great option for those who intend to take on a leadership or administrative role in social work. It will certainly open new doors and lead to quicker, easier advancement through the ranks in a given organization that focuses on the public good. It's important to understand, however, that a DSW degree is almost never required in order for social workers to become fully licensed and certified in their field. Most states require a Master's in Social Work, or MSW, while a handful of states only require their licensed social workers to have a Bachelor of Social Work degree.

The DSW program should be considered optional, but it should be considered a major improvement upon graduate-level education that will grant students the ability to advance further in their career and have more control over organizational policy and administrative duties. For those who intend to both practice and lead, rather than focus solely on the practice of social work, a DSW communicates highly desirable skills and ethical guidelines that can become essential as advancement opportunities stack up over the lifetime of a career in in the industry. Is a doctorate in social work worth it? For future leaders and those who want to stand their best chance at lifelong learning and advancement, it's absolutely worthwhile.