Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

Program Overview

The online DSW program prepares experienced professionals seeking leadership or management positions to develop solutions to large-scale social problems. We accept applications from aspiring social innovators from a variety of professional backgrounds, including business, public administration, public health, public policy, nursing, and marriage and family therapy.

As a student, you will study concepts related to innovation, leadership and advanced management practice during weekly online classes and two in-person residencies. The program culminates in a capstone project in which you present and pitch your original solution to a pervasive issue affecting society, such as homelessness, violence or poverty.

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After earning your Doctor of Social Work from USC, you will be prepared to advance your career and establish a legacy of social impact as you initiate positive change and lead national discourse about key issues affecting populations worldwide. 

While enrolled, you will explore the following topics:

Organizational Leadership
Understand organizations and how to facilitate organizational change.

Leading Public Discourse
Develop new ideas and perspectives in the public sphere working for the benefit of communities.

Innovation and Change
Study the latest research in transformative thinking and change management to predict the needs of clients and communities.

Technological Fluency
Focus on new technologies to evaluate theories and practices as well as how to implement them.

Data-Driven Decision Making
Create, implement and manage change based on collection and consideration of data.

Curriculum Overview

Curriculum Overview

As a DSW@USC student, you will complete 42 units of coursework focused on two primary content areas: (1) innovation and leadership and (2) advanced management practice in complex systems.


  • Managing Innovation and Change in Social Work
  • Leading Public Discourse in Social Work
  • The Science of Social Work
  • Informatics and Social Innovation
  • Innovation Laboratory I/II
  • Preparatory Scholarship for Capstone
    Leadership Capstone
  • Leading and Managing Complex Systems
  • Financial Management for Social Change
  • Data-Driven Decision Making in Social Services
  • Evaluating Innovation and Change
  • Residency I/II


Each semester, you will engage in Innovations Laboratories, which implement a case study method designed to hone your leadership and management skills. You will incorporate models from your Managing Innovation and Change in Social Work and Leading and Managing Complex Systems courses to address one or more of the Grand Challenges.

Residencies and Capstone

You will attend two in-person residencies, which will take place during your third and sixth semesters. Each residency is six days, running from Sunday evening to Friday. Residencies are held in Los Angeles and Washington DC.

During your residencies, you will explore one of the 12 Grand Challenges an initiative led by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. In your first residency, you will identify a challenge that you will then research for your capstone. At the second residency, you will present your capstone project, a fully developed idea for tackling the challenge. The capstone takes the place of a dissertation.

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