Doctorate IN

clinical social work

Become an advanced social work practitioner and educator without interrupting your career.

The Doctorate in Clinical Social Work (DSW) Program allows ambitious, MSW-prepared social workers to advance their education in just three years—without putting their careers on hold. Become a clinical expert, inspired educator, and real-world scholar through a convenient blend of online evening classes and on-campus immersion experiences.

The SP2 Difference

The nation’s first social work doctorate focused exclusively on practice

A hybrid format designed for busy working professionals

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The opportunity to conduct dissertation research on a pressing clinical social work issue under guidance from world-class faculty

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World-Class Faculty


The Penn DSW curriculum is designed to engage students in high-level learning that challenges them to think methodically, critically, and creatively about social work theory, practice, pedagogy, and research.

Students are required to complete 12 course units, a first-year on-campus immersion, a second-year on-campus immersion, a dissertation, and a dissertation defense.

DSW Academic Calendar >

First Year

The program begins with a two-semester foundation that spans clinical theory and research and ends with a core course on trauma-informed interventions. Concurrent with their coursework, students complete a dissertation workshop that guides them through the first stages of their dissertation. Near the end of the year, students are matched with a dissertation chair who shepherds them through the remainder of the dissertation process.

Fall Semester

  • SWRK 8040: Methods of Inquiry: Quantitative Research Methods (1CU)
  • SWRK 8120: Clinical Theory I (1CU)
  • SWRK 8150: Dissertation Seminar I (1CU)

Spring Semester

  • SWRK 8050: Methods of Inquiry: Qualitative Research Methods (1CU)
  • SWRK 8130: Clinical Theory II (1CU)
  • Supervision (1CU)

Second Year

Year 2 curriculum continues with specialized, applied courses that cover clinical content and teaching preparation. This second and final year of coursework culminates in two electives selected by the student cohort completed as a group. Students also continue their dissertation work under the direction of their dissertation committee.

Fall Semester

  • SWRK 8140: Applied Statistics (1CU)
  • SWRK 9040: Teaching (1CU)
  • SWRK 9020: Trauma (1CU)

Spring Semester

  • Family Based Interventions (1CU)
  • SWRK 9060: Race, Culture and Identity (0.5CU)
  • Leadership (0.5CU)
  • SWRK 9110: Social Construction and Social Work Practice: Transforming Dialogues (0.5CU)
  • SWRK 9200: Advanced Topics in Social Work Practice (2 electives)
    • XXX Topic 1 (0.25CU)
    • XXX Topic 2 (0.25CU)

Third Year

During the third and final year of the program, students complete, defend, and deposit their dissertation. There is no formal coursework during this year, but students participate in a dissertation seminar that provides structure and support and keeps them moving steadily toward their defense. Note that some students are able to complete the dissertation in as little as two years.


Paul Starling, DSW’11

“The DSW cohort model created lasting relationships, many of which are still intact today. My dissertation research has motivated me to investigate the development of a nature counseling model involving passive experiences in nature for people struggling with life issues.”


The Process

In collaboration with dissertation mentors and later, with the dissertation committee, students begin developing a dissertation topic during their first semester of the program. Through close mentoring and a tightly structured process, students complete an original work of scholarship that contributes to the clinical social work literature and knowledge base. The dissertation engages students in deep study and positions them as knowledge experts in their content area.

The Method

The Finished Product

The Doctorate in Clinical Social Work (DSW) Program is offered by the University of Pennsylvania, an institution of higher education authorized to confer degrees and certificates conferring academic credit under applicable laws of the United States. Students who are interested in participating in the program from countries other than the United States are advised that each jurisdiction may have its own laws and regulations governing online educational programs, and some jurisdictions may not recognize course credit or an online degree awarded by the University as satisfying local requirements for professional licensure, employment qualification, or other purposes. Before enrolling in this program, prospective students should investigate their jurisdiction’s treatment of foreign online programs to ensure that participation in this program will meet their objectives.

Ready to join the DSW community?

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Contact Us

Jeff Johnson-Curry

Administrative Coordinator, DSW Program 

215 573 7133