FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions About the Primarily Online DSW Program

The Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama has approved the School of Social Work to begin offering a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) program in Fall 2019. The DSW program, which includes a summer on-campus residency requirement, will be be offered in a distance format with program tracks for clinical social work and organizational leadership.

1. What is a DSW Degree?

A Doctor of Social Work (DSW) degree is a practice doctorate degree in social work. It provides coursework on theory and skills in social work practice that are more advanced than what one would typically experience in an MSW program for social work.

2. How is the DSW Program different from a PhD in social work program?

A PhD in social work program generally prepares social workers for careers that will focus on research and scholarship. CSWE surveys demonstrate that the majority of social work PhD graduates are employed at universities full-time, many in tenure-track positions that require the person to engage in some level of research activities. Other PhD graduates may work in non-academic research settings (e.g. think tanks). Fewer work in the field as full-time practitioners.

DSW programs have coursework on theory and skill development in the advance practice of social work. Some programs also prepare social workers for careers as clinical social work faculty in academic settings, in non-tenure track positions with little to no expectation that the person will engage in research. Most DSW graduates work in the field full-time in higher-level and independent positions within public and nonprofit health and human service settings.

3. What kinds of jobs might DSW-level social workers be employed at?

The University of Alabama’s DSW Program prepares social work practitioners who have an MSW to become leaders within organizational settings, work with the highest degree of independence, and/or pursue a social work faculty appointment in higher education. Some examples of careers for social workers with a DSW degree may include, but are not limited to:

  • Upper-level or executive-level administrative positions in health and human service agencies.
  • Leaders in social welfare and health policy at the local, state, or federal levels.
  • Independent, private practice clinicians, especially for clients with complex therapeutic needs that extend beyond the MSW-level curriculum.
  • Full-time social work educators and/or administrators in higher education involved with social work instruction or translational social work research.

4. Is a PhD or DSW right for me?

The answer to this question depends on your career goals. If you are interested in a type of career (e.g. social work faculty, executive director of a large non-profit) that would require greater knowledge and skillsets than what was provided to you in your MSW program, than doctoral education may be right for you. Talking to other doctoral-level social workers may help you in making this decision.

Achieving a PhD or DSW does not guarantee that you will receive promotions or earn a higher salary. Students should examine the curriculum of a doctoral program and evaluate the extent to which it matches their career goals. Also, you may want to consider if the costs, time, and effort required for a PhD or DSW program is worthwhile, given your career goals.

5. Is the DSW Program easier than a PhD Program?

The DSW Program is not an easier version of the PhD Program. They just have different goals, learning objectives, and content. Individuals should pursue a PhD program if they are mainly interested in learning social work research methodologies and advancing generalizable knowledge. Individuals who are interested in advancing their knowledge and skills in social work practice and/or practice-based teaching would benefit more from a DSW Program.

6. Is the UA DSW Program just for clinical social workers?

No. The UA DSW Program has an advanced clinical track and an organizational leadership track. The advanced clinical track offers coursework in advanced clinical practice theory and techniques, clinical supervision, research methods in clinical practice, and teaching in social work. The organizational leadership track offers course work in advanced management and leadership theory and skills, research methods in organizational and community settings, and teaching in social work.

Some students may want some content from both tracks. Students can select one track and take electives in the other track, if desired.

7. How long does the DSW Program take to complete?

The DSW program is a 45 credit program that should take 3 years to complete. Students attend courses part-time (generally, two courses per semester) during the fall, spring, and summer semesters.

8. How much is the tuition for the DSW Program?

For distance graduate programs at the University of Alabama, the tuition for both in-state and out-of-state students is $420 per credit hour. Therefore, the current tuition costs for the 45 credit DSW Program will be $18,900 for the entire three years. This amount does not include additional fees or costs associated with enrollment, course requirements, or residencies.

9. How is the DSW Program structured?

During the first year of the program, students take their core courses, including courses on theory and practice related to social work and research in social work practice courses. The second year of the program, students take their specialization courses, which related to either their advanced clinical or organizational leadership track. Before starting their third year, students will have to pass a comprehensive exam paper. During the third year, students will work under the guidance of a faculty advisor to complete a capstone project in the field.

10. What is the Comprehensive Paper requirement?

Before beginning their capstone project during the third year, students will have to complete a comprehensive paper that reflects the knowledge they gained during the first and second year of the program. This paper may be: (1) a review of the evidence (e.g., systematic review) of a social work practice topic; (2) a 3-paper submission that serves as a Capstone Project Proposal; or (3) a submitted grant application.

11. What is the Capstone Project?

To demonstrate mastery over course material and ability to practice social work at an advanced level, students are expected to complete a capstone project. For this project, students may choose one approach: (1) an intervention development, implementation, and evaluation; (2) a practice-focused thesis (e.g., developing a measurement for practice; practice-based research project); or (3) a first-authored published paper on a practice-based topic.

12. What are the residency components of the program?

To support, educate, and engage DSW students, each summer there will be a “residency program” that will take place on the University of Alabama campus. These residencies will take place for 4-days during the first year and 5 days during the second year and will be structured with educational workshops to support student learning and to prepare students to complete the comprehensive exam paper and capstone project during the second and third year. Time will also be allotted for students to meet with faculty on-campus in a face-to-face format. Students will also be required to visit campus to present their capstone project before graduation. Students arrange their own travel to campus for the residencies. The cost of travel is not included in program tuition. Residencies will take place during the first two weeks of June. Attendance of these on-campus components of the program are mandatory for graduation.

13. Can I participate in the DC Fly-In Program?

Yes. The School of Social Work at the University of Alabama offers an opportunity for students to attend an intensive, two-day training in policy education experience in Washington DC. The DC-Fly in is a hands-on experience in policy advocacy and is taught by faculty who have extensive experience in policy advocacy and other types of policy practice. For more information about this program, please visit: https://socialwork.ua.edu/academics/field-education/washington-d-c-internship-program-international-field-placement/

14. Can I participate in Study Abroad opportunities that are offered by the School of Social Work?

Yes. DSW students are able to participate in study abroad programs that are offered by the School of Social Work and can use the graduate courses associated with study abroad towards their electives.

15. What are the admission requirements for the DSW Program?

  • Based on University of Alabama Graduate School requirements, applicants must have a grade-point average (GPA) of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale (overall) for their last completed graduate degree program (their MSW program).
  • A student whose first language is not English must submit an official score report for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The minimum TOEFL score for admission is 550 or higher; the minimum IELTS score is 6.5 or higher.
  • Applicants must have an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program.
  • Applicants must have at least 3 years of post-MSW program experience.
  • Student in the DSW Program must be working at a social work placement for the duration of the program. This can be paid employment or volunteer service.
  • Applicants may be required to be interviewed by a School of Social Work faculty member.
  • Students must complete a statement of purpose as part of their application.
  • Students must submit a resume and three letters of reference. At least two of the references must be professional reference.

You can view a checklist of requirements here.

16. Do I need to take the GRE for admission?

No. Since the DSW Program requires students to have an MSW degree there is no GRE requirement.

17. I have less than three years of post-MSW practice experience. Are there any exceptions to this requirement?

At this time, there are no exceptions to the 3 years of post-MSW experience. There are no exceptions even if you have many years of experience before achieving your MSW degree.

18. My master degree is in an area other than social work. Can I still apply?

The DSW program at the University of Alabama requires that your master degree be in social work from a CSWE-accredited program. There are no exceptions to this requirement.

19. Why do I need a current social work placement to be a student?

The courses for the DSW Program teach students practical skills to use in the field. Also, the capstone project will require students to implement their own practice-focused project in the field. Therefore, students must maintain their own social work placement to use as a “living laboratory” for their assignments. This placement can be paid employment or volunteer.

20. Do I need to have my social work license to apply to the program?

This depends. You are required to maintain a social work placement while enrolled in the program as a student. However, state requirements for licensure vary by type of social work position. For instance, some states only require licensure for clinical social workers, where social workers in other types of positions (e.g. state-level administrators, policy practitioners) may not need a license even though they perform certain social work roles. Students are required to have the license required to maintain the social work placement they have during their time in the program. If their placement does not require a license, they do not have to have one.

21. What should I include in my Statement of Purpose?

The Statement of Purpose should provide a detailed and edited essay that addresses the following points:

  • A summary of your social work experience and area of social work interest or specialization.
  • A summary of why you are interested in pursuing the DSW degree, including a description of how you believe that the degree will make an impact on your career, as well as the impact that the degree may make on your area of practice. You should also indicate whether they are interested in the advanced clinical track or the organizational leadership track and why that track is best fitting for their career needs.
  • Describe a specific challenge or issue in clinical, organizational, and/or community-based social work practice that you would like to address as part of the DSW program curriculum. This issue should reflect critical thought about social work practice and reflect an interest on practice change. This should be an issue related to social work ethics, social justice, and/or quality of service delivery.
  • The statement should be no more than five pages long, double spaced, 12pt font.

As you write your Statement of Purpose, be mindful of some of the characteristics that the review committee will focus on as they review your essay:

  • Your ability to identify and articulate a social justice, ethical, or social service problem that can be addressed through the DSW coursework and capstone project. The description of this issue should be clear and compelling.
  • The extent to which the description of your work experience reflects a high level of competency at the MSW social work level, as well as an in-depth understanding and appreciation of social work values and ethics.
  • The appropriateness of your current social work practice setting (paid employment or volunteer setting) for applying DSW coursework and other required assignments.
  • You must cite literature supporting your statement, using APA format.

The overall quality of writing and/or other indicators not mentioned above.

22. Where do I get information about applying to the University of Alabama?

Information about applying can be found on the University of Alabama Graduate School Website.

23. I’m currently in a DSW or PhD Program at another school, will my courses transfer if I’m accepted into the program at the University of Alabama?

Currently, CSWE does not accredit DSW or PhD Programs. Therefore, the quality and scope of courses may vary significantly across schools. Students may transfer some of their credits from prior doctoral-level work under the discretion of the DSW Director and the Dean of the Graduate School. Such decisions will be made in exceptional cases and it is not expected that many students will be able to transfer credits from prior work completed at other schools. Such decisions can only be made after students have demonstrated significant progress in the DSW Program, and not during the application or admission process.

24. Do I have to attend orientation?

Yes. Students must attend the on-campus orientation to maintain their enrollment for their first Fall semester.

The on-campus orientation for the 2020 cohort is: August 14th-15th.

25. Where can I get additional information about the DSW program?

More information about the University of Alabama DSW program can be found through the School of Social Work DSW Website and the Bama by Distance website.

26. Who can I talk to if I have additional questions?

If you have additional questions, you can contact the Interim Director, Dr. Nicole Ruggiano. Her contact information is: (email) nruggiano@ua.edu (tel.) 205-348-4654.

Dr. Ruggiano is a macro practitioner by training, with significant experience in program planning and development, community needs assessments, and policy practice. She also has experience in direct practice and public program evaluation related to mental health. She has fourteen years of experience in teaching students in higher education and almost ten years of experience in doctoral social work education. Her scholarship and area of interest is in aging and health, with a focus on developing and testing technologies to improve dementia care and caregiving. Dr. Ruggiano has been selected as a John A. Hartford Geriatric Social Work Scholar and is currently an American Political Science Association Health and Aging Congressional Fellow. Dr. Ruggiano also has a record of external funding for her research investigations and has extensive experience in mentoring doctoral level social work students as they carry out their own research projects.