The online Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) program seeks to admit aspiring social change leaders who meet our high standards for academic excellence and demonstrate a commitment to solving pervasive social problems.

We offer start dates throughout the year, and our admissions team accepts and reviews applications year-round. Space in each cohort is limited. We recommend that you complete your application as soon as possible so you are able to enroll in your preferred semester.

Please refer to the application deadlines below to determine when you would like to begin the program.

January 2024

Early Priority Deadline
August 11, 2023
Priority Deadline
September 8, 2023
Final Deadline
October 9, 2023
Classes Begin
January 2024


Prospective DSW students must hold a master’s degree. This may include an MSW from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)–accredited program, any master’s degree from a regionally accredited program or any professional doctorate.

Five years of post-master’s professional employment experience is strongly preferred. Experience should demonstrate the following qualities:

  • Strong oral and written communication skills
  • Demonstrated leadership and management experience
  • Potential for innovation and creativity

Please note that applicants currently residing in Puerto Rico are ineligible to apply for this program at this time.

International Transcripts

For any student applying to the program with international transcripts, regardless of current residence or citizenship, will need to have all application items completed by the following dates to ensure proper processing of your international transcripts. 

Start Term
Final Deadline
Spring 2023
October 4, 2022
Summer 2023
February 24, 2023

International Applicants

  • International applicants will only be eligible for the Standard Track (9 semesters)
  • International applicants should refer to the USC Country Requirements to determine the academic records USC requires you to submit in order to be considered for admission
  • TOEFL scores will be required with a minimum total of 100 and no less than 20 in each band – this score is required as part of the application process 
  • Verification of all previous post-secondary degrees earned outside of the United States is required. Students who have earned a degree from an institution outside of the United States must engage the International Education Research Foundation. Please review this service’s requirements and fees on their special USC web pages and follow their instructions. The evaluation service will send a verification report directly to USC.
  • If admitted, DSW applicants are required to take the ISE exam from USC (online) to determine English Proficiency.  If admitted applicants do not pass, they will be required to take English courses in conjunction with the DSW coursework. Students are responsible for all course tuition. 
  • If admitted, applicants are responsible for assessing time zone issues with our evening course program.

Application Requirements

The following components are required to complete your DSW application:

Resume: Upload your current resume to the “Employment Information” section of the online application. Your resume should specifically highlight your social work–related experience.

Writing Prompts: This portion of the application demonstrates your ability to write and communicate at a high academic level. You will upload your writing prompts to the “Supporting Documents” section of the online application.

Your response to each of the two prompts must be three pages long, and double-spaced, for a total of six pages, and answer the following questions:

Writing Prompt #1: Statement of Purpose

  • Describe your professional goals, and explain how having a DSW from USC will help you achieve them. As part of this statement, we ask that you demonstrate:
    • Your understanding of the program focus and curriculum
    • The alignment of your career goals with curriculum of the DSW program

Writing Prompt #2: Writing Sample
What single social problem keeps you up at night? Select a social problem you would like to solve through your professional career, and describe this problem in behavioral terms. In other words, elaborate upon which behavior(s), and by whom, must change in order for this problem to be solved, and not the solution itself. Contextualize your discussion around one or two of the Grand Challenges for Social Work.

Formatting and Tips

  • Remember to demonstrate a high level of academic writing that aligns with what you would expect to see in an elite doctoral program.
  • Submit both in a single, six-page document — clearly label the sections with a page break between your two responses.
  • A title page is not required, but please include citations in APA formatting. A works cited page is not included in your six-page limit.
  • Use 12-point, Times New Roman font and one-inch margins.
  • Your statements should both be double-spaced.
  • Our faculty will use this to evaluate your professional writing skills, so we recommend having a peer or supervisor review it before submitting.

Letters of recommendation: Submit three letters of recommendation through the online application. Recommendations can come from academic instructors or professionals who have worked with you in a leadership capacity (paid, volunteer or internship). Personal recommendations are not acceptable.

Official transcripts: We recommend a sense of urgency when requesting transcripts from your undergraduate university as the turn around times vary from school to school. When requesting application items, please be aware that we only accept official electronic transcripts sent to

IMPORTANT NOTE: If your college or university utilizes National Student Clearinghouse to process electronic transcripts, you will need to follow the instructions outline below:

  • DO NOT select ‘University of Southern California’ as the recipient. This selection will send your transcript to the incorrect location and you may need to reorder these documents as a result.

Instead, select one of the following options:

  • Send to employer
  • Send to self
  • Not in list

Then provide the following email as the recipient address:

Once your order has been placed, please forward your order confirmation directly to your admissions counselor for tracking purposes.

Alternatively, your school can email official, password protected electronic transcripts directly to: or mail them to the address below:

University of Southern California (USC)
Application Processing Center
PO Box 30096 024-007
College Station, TX 77842

If you, or your school, will be sending transcripts via UPS, FedEx, or DHL Priority Mail, we request that you use the following alternate address, as these services do not deliver to a PO box:

University of Southern California (USC)
Application Processing Center
211 Quality Circle
Box 30096 024-007
College Station, TX 77842

Please note: To be considered an official transcript, the transcript must be sent directly from your institution(s) or through an electronic transcript vendor retained by that institution. Transcripts submitted by enrolled or prospective students are considered unofficial documents, even if they are in a sealed envelope provided to you by the issuing university.

If your official transcript does not include a degree conferral date, you must submit an additional form. This form acknowledges that you have read and will abide by the University of Southern California’s Concurrent Enrollment policy. You can find the form online here (PDF, 63K) or reach out to your Admissions Counselor for assistance.

Verification of all previous post-secondary degrees earned outside of the United States is required. Students who have earned a degree from an institution outside of the United States must engage the International Education Research Foundation. Please review this service’s requirements and fees on their special USC web pages and follow their instructions. The evaluation service will send a verification report directly to USC.

Please note that graduate coursework at USC is viewed cumulatively.  This means that if you have prior coursework at USC that falls below a 3.0 GPA, it will be calculated into your overall USC graduate GPA and you may be on academic probation until your overall USC graduate GPA rises to a 3.0.

Application fee: There is an $90 application fee paid through the online application.

Progressive Degree Policy

The University of Southern California maintains a progressive degree policy for its students. This means students cannot earn an MSW at USC after completing the DSW@USC program. Students may, however, earn a master’s degree in another discipline after earning their doctorate. 

Anyone with an active faculty appointment (full-time or flexible) in the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work is by policy ineligible to apply for admission to the school’s Doctorate of Social Work program.