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.

May 2022

Early Priority Deadline
January 31, 2022
Priority Deadline
February 16, 2022
Final Deadline
March 18, 2022
Classes Begin
May 16, 2022

September 2022

Early Priority Deadline
May 6, 2022
Priority Deadline
May 24, 2022
Final Deadline
June 21, 2022
Classes Begin
August 22, 2022


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 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

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: USC requires an official academic record from each postsecondary, regionally accredited school you have attended. Your school(s) can email official, password-protected electronic transcripts directly to, or mail them to:

University of Southern California (USC)
Application Processing Center
PO 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.

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

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.