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Affordable Online DSW Programs

Social workers understand the need to earn an online Doctorate in Social Work. The terminal degree empowers and motivates professionals to do all they can to build a world where all populations are taken care of, both in the private and public sector. It is also a profession that thrives on the passion and determination of the individuals involved.

But taking the time out from a busy schedule as a working professional to hunt down individual programs can be time-consuming and fruitless. A ranking that focuses on online and hybrid degrees is, therefore, a welcome tool. And by offering only the most important information in list format, professionals can run down the list and find the school and program that fits their career goals and ambitions.


Finding an online DSW can be a difficult task, which is why this ranking was created. Information was curated by using the National Center for Education Statistics' College Navigator Database. From an initial pool of 50 schools, this ranking was narrowed down to 10 with the help of in-state graduate tuition rates, listed here in descending order.

Ranking Low-cost Online DSW Programs

10. Capella University

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Online Doctor of Social Work

Tuition: $4,296 per quarter – information provided by the University

Capella University confers an online DSW program that prepares social workers for leadership and educator positions in a variety of different workplace setting. With a plan of study that is designed around DSW national standards, a focus on leadership, and courses taught by scholar-practitioners, this is a great program for any student interested in getting a well-rounded education from a school that cares about social work. Students can expect to take on a doctoral research seminar, a residency experience, and a doctoral capstone project. Sample courses include Leadership and Management in Complex Social Systems, Advanced Social Work Policy and Practice, and Advanced Social Work Practitioner as a Leader of Social Change.

For more information: Capella University

9. University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Knoxville, Tennessee

Online Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work

Tuition: $12,724

Students looking for a DSW online alternative will be interested to hear that the University of Tennessee at Knoxville confers a Ph.D. in Social Work. This is an academic and research-based degree that focuses on the use of the scientific method to develop the social work field in terms of education and for practical applications. The school is closely aligned with two world-class research centers, including the Center for Behavioral Health Research, and provides students with access to real-world professionals who are part of the faculty at the university. Students will find that this is a 100 percent online degree; no campus residency is necessary for this program. The degree requires 66 semester credit hours of coursework beyond a graduate degree, three research articles, a sequence of comprehensive exams, and a dissertation. Sample courses include Critical Thinking for Science and Research, Research for Social Work Practice, and Professional Development for Social Work Scholars.

For more information: University of Tennessee at Knoxville

8. University of South Carolina

Columbia, South Carolina

Online Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work

Tuition: $11,454

As the home to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, it'll come as no surprise that an interesting online DSW alternative is offered at the University of South Carolina. This hybrid degree has a goal of leading the charge on transdisciplinary community-engaged research; the program develops social workers into scholars and leaders who are ready to engage the field in various disciplines and on different issues. Students will find that the college also focuses on social justice and has several ongoing research projects that work on diversity and family studies. Students will be expected to complete 60 credit hours of coursework, a social work teaching practicum, a research practicum, a campus residency, comprehensive exam, and a dissertation in order to be eligible for graduation. Sample courses include Design and Critical Analysis of Social Work Research, Community-Engaged Research for Social Welfare and Social Change, and Intellectual Foundations of Social Welfare and Social Work: Historical Roots.

For more information: University of South Carolina

7. Louisiana State University

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Online Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work

Tuition: $10,814

Louisiana State University confers an online DSW alternative; the research-based doctor of philosophy. This is a degree that is geared towards social work professionals who are interested in doing research in the field in order to change social environments for the better. It is an interdisciplinary program and is currently the only one of its kind in the state of Louisiana. Like many other social work programs, it requires campus residencies during the summer; the rest of the work can be completed in a student's own community and on their own time. Students can expect to complete 45 credit hours of coursework, research projects, a comprehensive exam, and a dissertation. Sample courses include Issues and Research Problems in Social Policy, Integrative Colloquium in Social Work, and Issues and Research Problems in Social Work Intervention.

For more information: Louisiana State University

6. University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Online Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work

Tuition: $10,470

A comprehensive online DSW alternative comes from the University of Alabama in the form of its research-based Ph.D. program in the field. This is a hybrid program that is best known for research focus areas that are generally not covered by other schools, including matters of racial and social justice, service to military members and their families, and aging and end of life. It is a comprehensive degree that encompasses a variety of experiences for students that they may not get anywhere else. Students can expect to complete 73 credit hours of coursework, a research project, teaching practicum, comprehensive exam, and a dissertation. Sample courses include Social Work and the Welfare State, Concepts and Theories of Social Work Practice, and Multivariate Dependence Methods.

For more information: University of Alabama

5. Kutztown University

Kutztown, Pennsylvania

Online Doctor of Social Work

Tuition: $9,618

Kutztown University confers an online DSW program that is geared towards social workers who are interesting in advancing their careers and their understanding of what social work is in the current American climate. This is an academic-based degree that is taught in a hybrid cohort model; a weekend residency is required once per session. All students study part-time, enabling them to continue in their current profession without much disruption. Like many other programs, this degree requires some teaching practicums, which is done in an experiential format, enabling students to get a feeling for what their new career might entail. Additionally, students can expect to complete 60 credit hours of coursework, research projects, attend a conference to which they submitted their research, a comprehensive exam, and a dissertation. Sample courses include Research Methodology, Social Work Leadership, and the Social Work Teacher-Scholar.

Fore more information: Kutztown University

4. University of Houston

Houston, Texas

Online Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work

Tuition: $9,519

With a focus on evidence-based social work, the University of Houston has created a Ph.D. program that prepares social workers to take their place as policymakers and leaders within the field. Students are trained in the analysis and implementation of research, given the chance to participate in work environments, and given all the tools necessary to take on leadership roles after graduation. This hybrid degree is also available to students in a full-time or part-time plan of study, enabling them to choose how much of their time they devote to their education. Students can expect to complete 53 credit hours of coursework, research projects, a teaching practicum, a comprehensive exam, and a dissertation. Sample courses include Statistics and Data Analysis, Social Welfare Policy Analysis, and Teaching in Higher Education.

For more information: University of Houston

3. University at Albany SUNY

Albany, New York

Online Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work

Tuition: $9,223

The University of Albany SUNY is a leader in social work doctoral programs. Nationally renown for graduating some of the best-known social workers in the field today, the program continues to generate goodwill by offering a hybrid version of its traditional degree to students from all over the country. The school is best known for its research focus area, which includes diversity and minority health disparities, homeless LGBT youth, and addiction. With a campus residency every session that lasts just one weekend and the ability to choose between full-time and part-time study, this program is best suited for students who are passionate about research and educating the next generation of social workers. Students can expect to complete 30 credit hours of coursework, a research project, cognate area, independent study, a comprehensive exam, and a dissertation prior to graduation. Sample courses include Social Welfare Policy, Application of Advanced Methods in Social Welfare Research, and General Reading in Social Welfare and Social Work.

For more information: University of Albany SUNY

2. University of Central Florida

Orlando, Florida

Online Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work

Tuition: $6,368

A great hybrid social work doctoral program comes from the University of Central Florida. This degree offers four concentrations: Sociology of Crime and Deviant Behavior, Domestic Violence, Social Inequalities, and Health, Families and Communities. This degree is perfect for students interested in going into research or academia after graduation. The program does require weekend residencies every semester, but apart from that, all other coursework is taught via asynchronous methods. Students are also strongly encouraged to take on an assistantship, although it is not necessary for graduation. Students will be expected to complete 60 credit hours of coursework, research projects, a comprehensive exam, independent study, and a dissertation. Sample courses include Social Policy and Research Analysis, Theoretical Criminology, and Design and Conduct of Social Services.

For more information: University of Central Florida

1. Florida Atlantic University

Boca Raton, Florida

Online Doctor of Social Work

Tuition: $4,831

A cheap online DSW comes from Florida Atlantic University, which had commenced the program in 2016, making it the first DSW program in the state of Florida. This is a cohort, hybrid, part-time degree that was designed specifically for working professionals in mind. Courses are delivered both in the traditional and online formats, with just one orientation residency required for graduation. Students are taught in a scholar-clinician model, meaning that students tackle the concepts and theories discussed during the courses as both academics and practitioners. Unlike many other programs, FAU requires all social work students to take on a practicum prior to completing their capstone project. This degree requires 60 credit hours of coursework, a research project, clinical practice, and a capstone project for graduation. Sample courses include Theories and Epistemology of Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice, Social Work Pedagogy, and Evaluating and Interpreting Social Work Research.

For more information: Florida Atlantic University

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Career Options for an Online Doctorate in Social Work?

Social work is a broad field, one that encompasses most of what most citizens would consider to be the community and social services. This includes everything from public health to social work to child welfare and everything in between.

It makes sense, then, that a professional with a DSW under their belt would still have access to those positions and yet be offered other high-profile positions that are not available to social workers who only hold a bachelor's or master's degree in the field.

Some of the most popular positions are that of professor and researcher. These careers are regulated to the education sector, where professionals work as educators in the university setting. Researchers also work in universities, often doubling as professors, as well as think tanks.

Another popular option is that of an executive within the government or public sector. These positions are generally considered administrative or leadership positions; workplaces generally include community centers, public health centers, rehabilitation facilities, correctional facilities, and more. Professionals can work as case managers, side-by-side with psychologists and doctors, work to keep community services on track as a lead administrator, and more.

And interesting option is that of the advocate-activist. Many social work professionals with a position of power and influence are beginning to make their voices heard in Congress and in local and state governments. They are using their expertise as social workers to write books, lobby Congress for social change, build nonprofits to help underserved communities, and more. Some are also running for office, using their experience as social workers as a demonstration that they understand their potential constituents.

How Much Can You Earn in this Field?

Many people consider social work to be a rewarding, but not altogether fiscally strong, career. However, when a student earns a DSW, their salary can shoot up around $20,000 from their salary at the graduate stage.

The average salary for a social worker who holds a DSW is around $85,000. This amount can vary based on region, actual position, and other factors, but most professionals report a starting salary of above $75,000. As time goes on, some professionals may even earn up to $100,000, including additional sources of compensation based on their position.

The significant rise in salary is due to the fact that the DSW is a terminal practical degree; social workers cannot earn a higher degree than this. It also gives these professionals a chance to work in scenarios where they are the leaders, giving them more responsibility than ever before. Because employers understand that these professionals must be compensated for their commitment to the field, the salaries are considerable.

What are the Various Disciplines of Social Work?

Social work is both an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary field; this means that social workers are often asked to view an issue both as a social worker and through the eyes of another discipline. It is therefore not a surprise that a variety of different disciplines make their way into the workload of a social worker.

Most social workers will be aware that psychology and sociology play a large role in this field. These disciplines are generally combined with a knowledge of the law, economics, policy, and social welfare.

When students get to the doctoral level, the scope of disciplines can change slightly based on their cognate area; disciplines like politics, economics, mental health, neuroscience, public health, and others can all play a role in a social worker's education.

Research skills, such as statistics, technology, critical thinking, analysis, math, and more are necessary for academic social workers. These disciplines and skills mold the way that a social worker approaches their craft and can either help or hinder the findings they receive from any research project. For teachers, education and development also play a large role in their work.

Will Earning a DSW Online Hurt Your Chances of Finding Work?

No, an online DSW or Ph.D. in Social Work will not hurt a student's chances of finding work. In fact, the opposite could be true. Many employers are searching for passionate and committed social workers and by demonstrating their commitment both to their career and their education, a student can impart a sense of value on employers.

It's important to note that most schools, however, do not distinguish between online and traditional degrees. This is because online education has come such a long way in the 20 years it has been around that online education isn't seen as a mark of low quality anymore. Professionals consistently take on DSW programs and other postgraduate degrees, making it easier for employers to accept this type of education. And, with professional certificates and recertification taking place online, disdain for online education has no place in American education.

To reiterate, students are advised that the only way an employer will know if a professional took a degree online is if that professional tells them that. Nothing on a transcript or a resume will distinguish between the two. And for a position in social work, what matters is the quality of the education, not how the education was delivered.

Does Accreditation Matter for an Online Doctorate Degree in Social Work?

No, accreditation does not matter, and the reasoning is simple: accreditation for doctoral programs in social work does not exist. The main accrediting body for university-level degrees in social work, the Council on Social Work Education, does not accredit doctoral programs. There doesn't seem to be a reason why there is no doctoral accreditation body; however, many schools believe that since students are already licensed by the time they apply for the doctorate program that accreditation is not necessary. While it's difficult to determine whether this train of thought is useful, it is nevertheless the case that accreditation is not currently available at the terminal level.

Students will find that accreditation of their previous degrees in social work will matter, however, when applying to a social work doctoral program. That's because these programs require both work experience and evidence that a student is licensed as a social worker in their state of residence. Licensure is nearly impossible to obtain if a student has not attended an accredited undergraduate or graduate school.

Social work is a general field that requires a great deal of passion and commitment from all of the professionals who currently work within it. It is one of the most fulfilling but demanding careers in the country and only the most devoted ever make it to earning their online DSW and then becoming leaders in the field. Now is the time to consider earning an online DSW and this ranking can help social workers find the best online DSW programs for their needs.

GSH Staff

June 2018

This concludes our ranking of the Top 10 Most Affordable Doctorate in Social Work Online 2018.