Social Work PhD

If you're interested in research positions, policymaking, and social work planning, you will need to complete a doctorate in social work or accredited PhD in social work program. While most employers now prefer candidates to have at least a master's degree in the field, those who want to pursue teaching and research positions - or just advance in their careers - can complete a doctorate degree program that includes some lab work, developing core competencies, and studying theories and advanced clinical practices. Most schools offer a hands-on curriculum at this level and give students a chance to evaluate interdisciplinary theories, analyze and solve social problems, and participate in both independent and collaborative research studies.


Getting a PhD in Social Work

Most accredited schools and colleges that offer a PhD in social work require students to complete a series of advanced courses and work on a dissertation. The primary goal of completing a PhD program is to deepen one's clinical knowledge and work towards a leadership role in a clinical or educational setting.

Students have a chance to study interdisciplinary theories, social interventions, social policy, and also work on collaborative research products throughout their program. Some schools require the student to write a comprehensive paper before they can complete the dissertation proposal seminar requirement. This research-intensive program can take up to five to seven years to complete. Some doctoral degrees take between two and four years to complete after completion of the master's of social work (MSW).

The dissertation is one of the most important parts of a PhD program and is designed to help students advance professionally and also develop some strong research skills. The dissertation allows a student to integrate their social work practice knowledge and theory with some sound empirical research principles.

Some schools offer accelerated DSW programs for students who want to complete their doctorate degree requirements without interrupting their careers. Many schools now offer convenient class scheduling options, including night time courses and weekend programs. Admission requirements typically include:

  • Having a master's degree in social work (MSW) from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Having at least two years of post-MSW practice experience
  • Providing three letters of reference
  • Submitting an application essay that states the student's educational goals and intent to complete an advanced training and research program

Doctorate in Social Work Courses

Examples of courses offered through a doctorate in social work program include:

  • Statistics and Data Analysis
  • Introduction to Multivariate Statistics
  • Qualitative Research Methods
  • Theoretical Approaches to Understanding Human Behavior, Development, and Change
  • Learning and Teaching Practices
  • Public Policy Issues
  • Social Work Research
  • Understanding Clinical Practice
  • Clinical Work
  • Dissertation Proposal

Most social work professionals end up working in research or teaching positions in the field. They may work as a professor of social work studies at a college or university, or move in to a research role for a particular publication. Some choose to be self-employed or work with an agency to take on a supervisory or leadership position. Others may choose to teach part-time at a school and work on research projects with some academic colleagues.