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Online Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

The online Doctor of Social Work (DSW) is designed for experienced social workers to become practitioner-scholars in teaching and leadership and take on roles such as faculty members in social work programs and program directors, administrators, policy practitioners and other organizational leadership positions within social service organizations.

The University of Louisville's online DSW program can help you make a real difference in your community and the world. If you’re an experienced social worker ready to make a difference, our expertly designed DSW curriculum can help you develop the skills you need to educate, innovate and implement just practices that promote academic, organizational and community change.

The DSW is offered by the Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work and Family Science at the UofL.

How Much Will I Pay?

Tuition & Aid    

Online DSW Program Highlights

  • Experience the advantage of earning your degree from an R1 research institution.
  • Gain hands-on experience by completing a teaching practicum as well as a leadership practicum.
  • Complete your DSW in as little as 3 years (or 8 semesters).
  • Set yourself up for a successful career—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Social worker employment is expected to grow 16% between 2016 and 2026.
  • Take advantage of the flexibility and convenience of 100% online classes and 24/7 access to learning tools as well as synchronous and asynchronous courses.
  • Learn from world-class, experienced Kent School faculty and build influential connections with your peers through small cohorts.
  • Complete—and defend—an original capstone project created under the supervision of a faculty mentor and 3 other faculty members.


Stronger cultural knowledge and stronger base to work from—available fully online.


Earn your graduate certificate in just 14 courses (44 credit hours).


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Social worker employment is expected to grow 16% between 2016 and 2026.

Online learning  - Online Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

"This program transforms experienced professionals into scholars, teachers and organizational leaders positively impacting vulnerable and marginalized populations."

John W. Miller Jr., PhD

The Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work and Family Science

Founded in 1936, the Kent School of Social Work and Family Science prepares students to work in a society with complex social problems and needs. Rapidly becoming one of the top research social work programs in the country, the Kent School is able to provide current research information in the preparation of its students for work with individuals, families and communities. Learn more about the Kent School here.

Online DSW Outcomes

What Can You do with a DSW?

The essential knowledge, skills and credentials earned from a DSW equips you to advance your career and succeed as a social work postsecondary educator and/or leader. In the community, DSW degrees prepare individuals for leadership roles in human service and non-profit organizations, policy and advocacy positions, and community activism. In practice roles, DSW degrees prepare individuals for advanced social work positions in private practice and consulting and training. In academia, a DSW degree can prepare you for roles as faculty members and administrators.

The 2019-2029 occupational outlook for postsecondary social work educators is expected to grow 9% nationwide, which is faster than the average national occupation growth rate and have a median annual salary of $80,790 (bls.gov).

Other career opportunities available to Doctor of Social Work graduates include:

  • University faculty or administrator
  • Policy practitioner
  • Leader within social service organizations
  • Consultant

What is the Difference Between a DSW and a PhD in Social Work?

The DSW is ideal for someone who wants to be an educator or take on a leadership position in a social service organization or within higher education. On the other hand, a PhD in social work will help students hone their research skills and prepare for conducting research while teaching at a college or university.

While you can become a faculty member with either degree, a DSW prepares you to become part of the education faculty with a central focus on teaching and service as opposed to research.


Online DSW Application Deadlines

Preferred Application Deadline Term Start Date
February 1 - Priority Deadline Fall August
May 15 - Final Deadline Fall August

Steps to Apply for the Online DSW

  1. Complete graduate application
  2. $65 non-refundable application fee
  3. Submit official college transcripts from all previous institutions
  4. Complete DSW application checklist
  5. Submit personal statement of goals for pursuing the DSW degree
  6. Submit Current Resume or Curriculum Vitae
  7. Submit 3 letters of recommendation
    • From individuals familiar with the applicant’s work and/or academic ability and performance such as current or former supervisors and instructors
  8. A writing sample demonstrating the applicant's writing and analytical ability. The personal statement is expected to be between 2-3 pages, single spaced using 12pt Font.
    1. What is your purpose for pursuing the Doctor of Social Work (DSW)degree at this point in your career?
    2. What have you learned from your past academic and social work practice experience for you to be successful in the Doctor of Social Work (DSW)program?
    3. What are the primary challenges you anticipate and supports you will need from the DSW program to successfully complete the online program?
    4. The Kent School of Social Work strives for diversity, equity, and inclusion and is actively committed to becoming an anti-racist organization. What contributions, if any, do you see yourself making to these efforts as a DSW student in the Kent School of Social Work?

Send all materials to:
Graduate Admissions
University of Louisville
2211 S. Brook Street
Louisville, KY 40292

* The preferred deadline helps you complete the application process on time, be notified of acceptance and enroll before the term begins. We recommend you work on and submit your complete application in advance of the preferred deadline, as some application materials may take more time.


Online DSW Admission Requirements

  • Master’s degree in Social Work
    • Master’s GPA of 3.0 (applicants with a master’s GPA of below 3.0 showing potential for success as demonstrated in their other submitted application materials and/or in the interview for admission into the DSW program will be given consideration for admission)
  • 3 years of post-master’s social work experience
  • An interview after review of submitted application materials

Online DSW Courses

The online DSW is a 44 credit hour program. Fall and Spring courses are eight weeks. Summer courses are six weeks. Students complete both a teaching practicum and leadership practicum as part of their coursework. All students must pass a qualifying assessment before proceeding to the capstone project (6 credit hours) that is completed in the third year of the program. Practicums occur across all semesters.

Term Course List Hours
Fall DSW 700: Social Service Leadership and Teaching & Learning: History, Philosophy & Current Practice 3
DSW 701: Ethics, Equity, and Social Justice: Theory and Practice 3
Spring DSW 702: Implementation Science, Program Development, & Administration 3
DSW 703: Continuous Quality Improvement, Data Driven Decision-Making and Evidence Based Practice & Manage 3
Summer DSW 704: Research Methods 3
DSW 705: Program Evaluation 3
Fall DSW 706: Applied Social Service Leadership, Management & Practice 4
DSW 707: Program Planning, Finance, & Budgets 3
Spring DSW 708: Social Work Teaching & Learning: Theories, Methods & Assessment 4
DSW 709: Teaching in Social Work: Course Design, Instruction & Evaluation 3
Summer DSW 710: Policy Analysis & Advocacy: Contemporary Issues 3
DSW 711: Integrative Seminar & Qualifying Assessment 3
Fall DSW 712: Capstone Project I 3
Spring DSW 713: Capstone Project II 3
Minimum Required Credit Hours 44

Online DSW Practicum Experiences

Students complete two practicum experiences. In the fall semester of the second year, students complete a leadership practicum concurrently with Applied Social Service Leadership, Management & Practice. In the spring semester of the second year, students complete a teaching practicum concurrently with Social Work Teaching & Learning: Theories, Methods & Assessment.

Synchronous Learning in the Online DSW

Work in online learning is asynchronous or synchonrous. With asynchonrous coursework, the instructor as well as the students in the course, engage with the course content at different times. Synchronous learning, a modality often enjoyed by students, more closely resembles the traditional classroom and requires students and the instructor to be in the same place at the same time.

While work in all DSW classes is primarily asynchronous, each course meets twice during the semester. All synchronous class meetings are held on Wednesday evenings.

Online DSW Course Descriptions

  • I am thinking of applying
    • Is there a dissertation required?

      There is no dissertation. However, students have the option of conducting a capstone project.

    • What do the classes cover?

      The classes provide knowledge and skills in implementing leadership knowledge; application of teaching skills and learning strategies; ethical leadership and teaching practices; and modalities of scientific inquiry in evaluating practices in leadership and teaching and learning.

    • How long does the degree take to finish?

      The DSW takes 3 years to complete. Students take one course at a time continuously across Fall, Spring and Summer semesters.

    • Do I have to come to campus?

      There is no residency. All classes and program events are online. You are welcome to join us for commencement activities if you elect to do so.

    • Can I still work while completing the program?

      The program is designed with the practicing social worker in mind. Students take one class at a time so they can focus on course content while remaining employed. Additionally, students will use observations and experiences from their workplace to complete coursework across the curriculum. Students will begin applying new knowledge in their work as they learn.

    • How competitive is the admissions process?

      The admissions process is competitive. Students must demonstrate strong verbal and written communication skills, critical thinking, a commitment to social work values and a commitment to prioritizing the time needed to undertake doctoral studies.

    • How large are the cohorts?

      There are 20 students in each cohort.

    • Is the program considered part-time or full-time?

      The program is a part-time program because students only complete six credit hours each semester. Classes are a hybrid of synchronous and asynchronous meetings.

    • What is the application deadline?

      The application deadline is February 1st each year for the cohort that begins the program in the Fall semester of the given year. Interviews are conducted in February and March. Admission decisions are made in March.

    • What are the practicum experiences?

      There are two practicum experiences completed in year two of the program. First, students complete a leadership practicum at their place of employment. The practicum experience depends on the nature of the organization with tasks focused on activities conducted by upper administrators. Second, in the teaching practicum, students work with Kent School faculty to observe and conduct teaching activities. The leadership practicum occurs in the Fall semester, and the teaching practicum occurs in the Spring semester.

    • How is the DSW degree different from the PhD degree?

      DSW programs can prepares students to become scholar-practitioners in advanced social work practice and leaders in human service and educational institutions. PhD programs prepare students to become researchers who develop theoretical research and educational practices.

    • Is the DSW Program accredited through the Council on Social Work Education?

      Currently, DSW and PhD programs are not accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). In June of 2020, CSWE approved accreditation standards for the DSW degree which is currently being piloted. The Kent School of Social Work and Family Science DSW program has adopted CSWE’s Accreditation Standards for Professional Practice Doctoral Programs in Social Work. For information about the standards and the current pilot study, please visit the Council on Social Work Education Website.

  • I was accepted! What now?
    • What type of resources are available to students to support them through the program?

      Students are provided a complimentary subscription to Grammarly, access to Library Services for Distance Education and Online Courses, and the university’s Virtual Writing Center. Students are also assigned faculty mentors who provide support guidance through the program. And finally, there is student support for Blackboard, the learning Management system used for online courses, and assistance for technology issues. Monthly seminar sessions and student support meetings are held along with professional development activities through the university’s Graduate School and the DSW Program.

    • How much is tuition?

      Tuition is $775 per credit hour. Individuals on active duty in the military, Coast Guard, and qualifying members of the Reserves and National Guard may be eligible for a tuition rate of $250 per credit hour.

    • Is there financial assistance?

      There are currently no scholarship or assistant opportunities for DSW students. Students work with the Financial Aid Office on applying for student loans or devising payment plans.

  • I have finished my coursework. What now?
    • What is the capstone project?

      Students complete the capstone project in the final year of the program. Students work under the guidance of a capstone project committee. Students who elect to complete a capstone project develop and implement a project based on scholarly literature that addresses a substantive issue or concern in leadership or teaching.

    • What are some examples of capstones students are thinking about completing?

      Students develop capstone projects around student interests and leadership opportunities offered in their workplaces.

  • I am graduating!
    • What are some types of employment opportunities for someone pursuing a DSW degree?

      Individuals with a DSW degree are qualified for the following positions (non-exhaustive list): University faculty or administrator, Policy practitioner, Community advocate, Leader within social service organizations, Consultant, Trainer, etc

    • Is the DSW degree eligible for licensure?

      After completing a MSW/MSSW or DSW degree from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), graduates are eligible to apply for licensure as a Certified Social Worker (CSW) or Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in the state of Kentucky. The University has not determined whether the DSW program meets the educational requirements for certification or licensure outside the state of Kentucky. Applicants are highly encouraged to check with the professional licensing authority in the state where they plan to practice to determine if our DSW program meets the educational requirements for that state.

Online DSW Success Team

    Online DSW Featured Faculty