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College of Social Work


Frequently Asked Questions

Your one-stop resource for information on the Ph.D. program, admission requirements and more. 

General

What is the difference between the Master of Social Work and Ph.D. programs?

The MSW program prepares students for advanced generalist social work practice. Conversely, the Ph.D. program is for scholarly careers in social work education and research related to social work and social welfare. Most Ph.D. graduates work in academia while others work as researchers in government agencies, research centers or private charitable organizations.

How do Ph.D. studies differ from MSW studies?
How does Ph.D. studies differ from MSW studies?

The reading material and writing requirements are more extensive and challenging than in the MSW program. Because required courses constitute only part of the workload and requirements, Ph.D. students require greater initiative and self-direction.

Does the program provide training for doctoral-level practice clinical practice?

Our program is designed to train scholars in community-engaged, trans-disciplinary research and social work education. The program provides no advanced clinical courses or training. 

Can I maintain outside employment while in the program?

Outside employment is strongly discouraged but not prohibited. Students must enroll full-time (10-12 hours per semester) during the first three semesters in residence and all have research assistantships that require about 15 hours per week.

Program Options

How long is the program?

Our program usually requires a minimum of three years full-time study. Most students require four to five years to complete their courses of study and dissertations.

Is there a part-time option?

Our program is considered full-time during the first two years. Beginning in your third year, you have greater flexibility in scheduling your coursework, dissertation research, research employment and classroom teaching. While some students continue their studies full-time, others must manage employment or family responsibilities, or wish to gain additional research and teaching experience before they graduate.

Are evening or weekend courses offered?

Required courses are offered once each academic year, during the day, and usually on Mondays and Tuesdays in the first year. Elective courses from other departments may be scheduled at different times.

Curriculum

What is the curriculum?

Our curriculum consists of required courses on community-engaged research, intellectual foundations of social welfare and social thought, quantitative and qualitative research methods, college teaching, and leadership for social change. A professional seminar also helps you succeed in the transition to doctoral studies and begins the process of professional socialization.

How many courses will I take?

You will carry a full-time graduate course load, usually 10 to 12 credit hours per semester, and work in paid research assistantships (about 15 hours per week) during the first two-and-a-half years of the program. Afterwards, you will take elective courses in preparation for dissertation research. Learn more in our Ph.D. Program Manual.

Admission

What are the admission requirements?

Admission to the Ph.D. program is highly selective, and only a limited number of applicants are admitted for each fall semester. Successful applicants have career goals consistent with the program focus. Most successful applicants have:

  • An MSW from a CSWE-accredited program or, for international students, a comparable social work program.

  • Minimum grade point average of 3.5 for graduate studies.

  • Three letters of reference providing evidence of scholarly potential.

  • A detailed personal statement that addresses:

    • Your career goals

    • How earning a Ph.D. will help you achieve your career goals

    • Why you want to pursue a Ph.D. at the USC College of Social Work

    • What, if any, experience you have conducting research or evaluation (i.e. with a faculty member, for employment, etc.)

    • Your major research interest and focus

    • What personal and professional experiences have influenced your research interest and focus

    • How, if at all, your research interest and focus fits with the program's emphases on community-engaged, trans-disciplinary research (i.e. team science) and leadership for social change. 

  • Graduate Record Examination or Miller Analogy Test score

  • Writing sample (i.e., published paper, master’s thesis or major classroom assignment)

  • Satisfactory TOEFL or IELTS score for international students whom English is not their primary language

How important is post-MSW practice experience?

Post-MSW practice is not required for admission, but doctoral students with practice experience enrich the learning environment and are better prepared to be professional educators and researchers. Each cohort is selected to increase the potential that students will learn from each other and the faculty.

The Council on Social Work Education requires instructors have a minimum of two years practice experience to teach practice courses. For example, a student with at least two years of post-BSW experience would qualify to teach BSW-level practice courses. Students with at least two years of post-MSW experience would qualify to teach MSW-level courses. Without sufficient practice experience, Ph.D. graduates may only teach non-practice courses, such as theory, research and policy.

Where do I apply?

Applications must be submitted electronically through The Graduate School.

When is the application deadline?

The application deadline is Jan. 15, although files may be submitted earlier. The Ph.D. committee will begin screening applications and make admissions decisions after Jan. 15.

When do I apply to The Graduate School?

The deadline for applying to the Ph.D. program is Jan. 15, but The Graduate School recommends applicants set aside enough time (usually two to three weeks) for completing the application process. Although The Graduate School typically processes submitted materials in one-to-two business days, it may take longer for issuing parties to gather and submit your supporting documents.

Note: Do not send any supporting materials until after you have submitted a completed application.   

When are students admitted into the Ph.D. program?

Admission decisions are made following the Jan. 15 application deadline. Students are admitted in the spring for classes beginning in August.

What if I need to defer my admission for one year?

Submit a request in writing to Maryah Fram, Ph.D., MSW, Ph.D. Program Coordinator.

How can I improve my chances of gaining admission?

Some students seek to improve their odds of admission by retaking the required standardized exams (GRE or MAT). A second or third attempt may yield higher scores. Students for whom English is not their primary language may also benefit from additional English language instruction at home or with USC’s English Programs for Internationals. You may also benefit from a clearer articulation of your professional goals and research interests and identifying faculty members with whom you could work and study.

 Research

What research opportunities are available?

USC offers numerous opportunities for community-engaged research throughout the campus. The College of Social Work features five centers and institutes, providing direct opportunities for research, training and technical assistance:

  • The Center for Child and Family Studies

  •  Institute for Families in Society

  • I. DeQuincey Newman Institute for Peace and Social Justice

  • SmartHOME Center

  • South Carolina Center for Gerontology

Faculty members and Ph.D. students are involved in collaborative research with colleagues from numerous university departments, including public health, psychology, business, nursing, medicine, political science, sociology, criminal justice, engineering, pharmacy and education. External partnerships include major state and national health and human service systems, and international affiliations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Is faculty mentoring available?

Once admitted to the program, you are assigned two faculty mentors - a research assistantship supervisor and an academic advisor - to facilitate your successful transition. You are also encouraged to seek other faculty members with shared interests, both within and outside the College of Social Work. Most college faculty members are engaged in research projects within the community and welcome students to inquire about these projects. Learn more about current faculty research interests.

Tuition and Financial Aid

What funding does the College of Social Work provide?

All incoming Ph.D. students receive research assistantships that provide competitive stipends and tuition remission along with research experience. Learn more about Ph.D. funding.

International Students

Does USC sponsor international students?

As required by the United States government, the university must document that international students have adequate resources for graduate study.

Do you require TOEFL, IELTS or any other English examination?

Applicants whose primary language is not English must submit either TOEFL or IELTS scores.