There are many similarities between a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and doctoral degree in social work (DSW), but they are not necessarily interchangeable for students who want to advance their master's degree even further. Prospective students should note that the differences between these degrees may vary significantly depending on the academic environment. Course selection and dissertation focus also play a significant role in defining academic experiences at the doctoral level.
Requirements for Program Admission
Typically, PhD and DSW programs require candidates to have completed a master's degree in social work, although some similar degrees from accredited institutions may also be accepted. Individual programs maintain their own academic standards for admission, which usually includes GPA and Graduate Record Exam (GRE) requirements. Social work students who are about to complete their master's degree can choose to advance their degree immediately or wait until they've accumulated some practical experience. Students should discuss academic and career goals with a guidance counselor or other advisor to determine the best way to pursue academic goals.
Career Advancement Opportunities
While neither a DSW or PhD is required to succeed in a social work career, they are both valuable assets that can boost a resume and open some doors. Senior management positions may require a doctoral degree and many employers recognize this achievement as something that sets applicants apart from the rest. Social services management jobs are just one of the many growing occupations within the field of social work, so there are plenty of options for students who successfully complete either program, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Research Versus Clinical Role
The defining difference between these two degrees is one of theory versus practice. Individuals who have a strong interest in working in academia as a scholar or educator are often advised to pursue a PhD since it is more oriented around research. On the other hand, DSW programs emphasize the application and implementation of techniques in social work settings. There is certainly some overlap between the two degrees, but course progression can actually diverge significantly depending on the institution and specific program.
Coursework and Dissertation
Many schools offer either a DSW or PhD program for social work students, so there can be a lot of coursework crossover between programs. Students can expect to study practical management topics as well as various emerging societal and public issues confronted by social workers in the field. Doctoral programs usually require students to dedicate one or more years to preparing and delivering a dissertation. DSW programs may add to or replace this requirement with prolonged clinical practice sessions to help students gain hands-on experience.
Related Resource: Top 10 Affordable Online Masters in Social Work 2018
Choosing between a DSW and PhD as a follow-up to a master's degree can be a difficult decision, although it may be a simple matter of availability depending on the desired school. Many candidates take some time to build work experience after graduation to bolster their application to a doctoral program. With the high variability between schools, students should carefully examine the differences and similarities between DSW and PhD programs to find the one that will support their personal and professional objectives.