Skip to Content

College of Social Work

Frequently Asked Questions

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


The MSW program prepares students for advanced generalist social work practice, while the Ph.D. program prepares students to be scholar-researchers. Most Ph.D. graduates work in academia while others work as researchers in government agencies, think tanks and social service organizations. 

The focus of the PhD is on becoming a scholar, with in-depth, specialized knowledge and skills in a particular area of research.  The reading material,  writing requirements, and content on both theory and research methods are therefore more extensive and challenging than in the MSW program.  And coursework is only the beginning of PhD studies – students take the lead in their own development, transitioning from required courses, to carefully chosen electives and independent studies, to mentored research experiences, and finally to an independent dissertation research project.

Our program develops scholar-researchers who generate and disseminate new knowledge to drive social change and create a more equitable, just, and inclusive society. The program provides no advanced clinical courses or training, though some of our students focus on research about clinical practice.

Outside employment is not prohibited but is strongly discouraged and would be difficult to fit in, particularly during the first 2 years in which students have highly structured, full-time program schedules. Students register for 10 credit hours of required courses during each of the the first three semesters in residence, and generally continue this full-time course load through the end of the 3rd year.  Our students also have research assistantships that require about 20 hours per week for the first 3 years of the program.  

Program Options 

Our program requires a minimum of two years of full-time coursework followed by 1 year of dissertation work.  However, it is truly rare for a student to complete the degree in 3 years, and we do not advise that students try to finish this quickly!. Most students require four to five years to complete program requirements, while also ensuring they have rich experiences with mentored research, publishing, and teaching – all of which are important for launching a career after graduation.. 

Our program is full-time. 

Required courses are offered during weekday hours, and students are generally in the classroom 2-3 days per week during the first two years of the program. Elective courses from other departments may be scheduled at different times. 


Admission to the Ph.D. program is highly selective, and only a limited number of applicants are admitted for each fall semester. Successful applicants are excited about becoming scholar-researchers, are ready to jump in and be successful at doctoral-level studies, and have a clearly defined area of research interest that fits well with the expertise of one or more of our faculty. The application process requires:: 

  • A completed Graduate School application.  
  • Transcripts from all post-secondary schools previously attended, including non-degree courses taken.  
  • Successful completion of A Master of Social Work degree from a Council on Social Work Education accredited graduate program (a master's degree in a related field may be considered on a case-by-case basis).  
  • A grade point average of 3.5 or above for graduate-level work.  
  • Evidence of scholarly potential as indicated by three letters of reference.  
  • A detailed personal statement.  
  • A sample of the applicant's scholarly writing.   
  • Satisfactory score on TOEFL or IELTS for international applicants for whom English is not their primary language.  

Post-MSW practice is not required for admission, and we have admitted students who embark on the PhD directly from an MSW program.  However, but practice experience often enriches the doctoral learning experience, and helps to inform and clarify an applicant’s research interests.   

In addition, the Council on Social Work Education requires  a minimum of two years post-MSW practice experience to be eligible to teach practice courses.  We therefore recommend that applicants think carefully about their career goals and readiness for doctoral study when deciding whether or not to get practice experience prior to a Ph.D. program. 

Applications must be submitted electronically through The Graduate School. 

The application deadline is Jan. 15, but we will begin reviewing applications and making admissions decisions on December 1.  We strongly recommend applying by December 1 if possible. 

You apply to our PhD program through the Graduate School.  The deadline for applying to the Ph.D. program is Jan. 15, but since we begin reviewing applications and making admissions decisions on December 1, we recommend you apply by December 1 if possible. In planning your timeline, remember that it may take a while for your recommenders to complete and submit their letters, for transcripts to be ordered and sent, and for your materials to be processed by the Graduate School and ready for us to review.  We encourage you to start early! 

Admission decisions are made on a rolling basis, starting as early as December 1 and often continuing well into spring.  Accepted students begin classes the following fall semester. 

Submit a request in writing to Maryah Fram, Ph.D. Program Director at:

We look for evidence that an applicant is truly interested in becoming a scholar and conducting research.  We also look for evidence that the applicant has a clear area of interest – a social problem or area of social work practice that they are motivated to help our profession understand better or differently.  As we review applications, we also assess how well prepared the applicant seems to be for doctoral study – this means looking at transcripts, letters of recommendation, the personal statement, and the writing sample for evidence of readiness for challenging readings, academic writing, critical thinking, and the perseverance and problem-solving skills necessary to be successful in a challenging and demanding academic program.  

Every applicant has both strengths and areas for ongoing development – as you prepare your application materials, be sure that you highlight your strengths, and that you help us to understand how you have been able to work through challenges, particularly in any areas where you may have struggled.  Finally, we want to make sure we can provide outstanding mentorship to every student we admit – so be sure to tell us in your personal statement which faculty you think would be a good fit to mentor you, and why.  


Our Ph.D. students are involved in research throughout their program of study Incoming Ph.D. students are matched with both an academic advisor, and a research supervisor who mentors the student during their 20 hour/week Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA)The GRA provides a progression of research experiences that are aligned with the student’s development. Students often seek multiple GRA assignments to build diverse research skillsets and expand their mentoring networks, both within the College and across our University system. Students also complete a Research Practicum, in which they take the lead on a research project, with ongoing support from a faculty mentor.  The College of Social Work provides opportunities for research based on our portfolio of faculty research activities (click on individual faculty names to learn more about what we study), as well as our:

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.  As you move from the coursework stage in the program to the dissertation stage, you will select a committee of 4 faculty who will mentor and support you through the dissertation project, and as you transition from our Ph.D. program into the workplace. research interests. 

Tuition and Financial Aid 

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

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

Applicants whose primary language is not English must submit either TOEFL or IELTS scores, unless they have already earned an English-language degree. 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.