Doctor of Social Work online

The online Doctor of Social Work (DSW) program at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work offers an advanced practice degree in social change and innovation for agency and community leaders and entrepreneurs.

The program prepares experienced professionals with the skills to develop practical, applied solutions to large-scale social challenges that directly impact vulnerable, marginalized or otherwise disadvantaged populations.

As a student in our online DSW program, you will develop characteristics of both practitioners and scholars. By adopting the disciplinary habits of scholars through rigorous inquiry and use of methodological tools associated with leading and managing innovation and change, you will become an effective social change leader.

Program Overview

As a DSW student, you will complete 42 units of coursework focused on three areas:

  • Problem definition within the Grand Challenges for Social Work
  • Innovative design
  • Executive leadership in human service organizations and community contexts

The DSW program can be completed in nine semesters, or 36 months. Students focus on the Capstone Project for the last three semesters.


The curriculum includes Design Laboratory for Social Innovation I and II, where you will incorporate models from your courses to address one or more of the 14 Grand Challenges in Social Work, as defined by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.

  • Strategic Innovations for the Grand Challenges
  • Leading and Managing Large Complex Systems
  • Data-Driven Decision Making in Social Services
  • Leading Public Discourse
  • Communication and Influence for Social Good
  • Design Laboratory for Social Innovation I
  • Financial Management for Social Change
  • Design Laboratory for Social Innovation II
  • Application of Implementation Science
  • Executive Leadership
  • Research
  • Capstone Project


As a student, you will complete a capstone project that demonstrates your abilities and results in a prototype — such as a business plan, large contract proposal, or organizational redesign plan — that is ready for public communication and implementation. This project will require you to demonstrate and apply social innovation in the context of the diverse knowledge and skills you have acquired throughout the program.

Similar to a dissertation, the capstone provides you with a guided opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge, skills and understanding that you have acquired throughout your course of study. You are expected to identify a problem of importance connected to the Grand Challenges and develop an innovative proposal for an immediately actionable social change effort in that challenge area.

Career Outcomes

Completion of the DSW program at USC prepares individuals for leadership and management roles within a variety of settings. Read more about the social innovators graduating from this program and their diverse professional backgrounds in business, military, health care and public policy.