The Differences Between a Masters and Doctorate in Social Work


If you’re intrigued by the concept of studying social work, you’ve probably come across different academic routes online. After achieving your bachelor’s degree, there are two main routes to consider: the Master of Social Work (MSW) and the Doctorate of Social Work (DSW).

This article will help you distinguish differences between the two academic routes mentioned above:

What Does an MSW Involve?

The MSW is a pre-professional degree that prepares you to practice social work. Most degrees of this nature are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Preferably–perhaps imperatively–you’ll attend an establishment that is CSWE-accredited.

MSW programs are roughly two years long. They usually involve coursework on social policies, human development, methods of practice, and social research. You might qualify to enroll with advanced status if you’ve studied a CSWE-accredited program. This would allow you to finish your master’s degree in one calendar year.

MSW: Work Experience

MSW programs require around 900 hours of supervised fieldwork. You can choose to work directly with families, individuals, or groups, or to conduct analysis work with social agencies.

This work prepares you for the industry. Students are also required to specialize in areas like employee assistance, aging, health care, or child welfare. Most programs place significant emphasis on community or social service. If you have experience in these areas, you’ll have a better chance of being accepted.

Are You a Good Candidate for an MSW?

There is no undergraduate major or minor required for an MSW. All the same, it’s advantageous to have a solid grounding in social sciences. You’ll need to provide transcripts of post-secondary school achievements and complete a detailed application form. You might be asked to complete an essay or personal statement and provide a letter of reference. Most programs require that you maintain a GPA of 2.5 – 2.75.

The Importance of Having a Clean Record

If you’re considering a career in social work, it’s important to have a clean criminal record, because security and patient protection is a sensitive area. This is why most social centers use a visitor management system to protect the people being looked after.

When a social practice receives your record and observes an offense, depending on the severity, they might question your insight, judgment, and character. If the offense can be explained as a pastime, you might be given an opportunity to prove yourself. Overall, it’s best to take preventative action and avoid legal trouble. If you have a criminal record, you won’t face an insurmountable obstacle, but you might want to consider another profession as a backup.

Criminal background checks are commonplace in the industry so you might receive a red flag for admission. If you’re passionate about social work and still want to pursue a career, accepting blame and being non-defensive gives you the best chance.

What Is a DSW?

The Doctorate of Social Work prepares you to conduct research in academic or non-academic settings. It is more theoretically focused than the MSW. It’s designed for experienced practitioners who want to further their careers in research. A DSW can take between 2 and 4 years to complete.

If you’re a seasoned social work professional and looking to advance into research or teaching, a doctorate in social work is a perfect option. It is a huge shift from practice to academia, but it will open many doors, including becoming a social work professor in departments of work or schools.


What is the Primary Focus of a DSW?
Research, publication, and teaching are critical elements of this doctorate. You’ll be equipped with skills to take on leadership roles. The program can prepare you for self-employed social work practice too. You may have the option to teach part-time or collaborate with colleagues.

Just like most Ph.D. programs, the DSW emphasizes quantitative and qualitative analysis methods. You’ll have to complete a dissertation, an extensive research project that can take over a year to complete.

The Aftermath Of a DSW Degree

Doctoral degrees in social work are not accredited by the CSWE. Applicants must have a strong academic record and work experience. After obtaining a doctoral degree, your options diversify considerably.

Though you’ll probably want to pursue your specific field, with a doctorate degree you have unlimited potential. Companies will be impressed by your standard of qualification, which proves you are a fast learner who can adapt to different situations. This will make you a sought-after asset in any industry.

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