College of Education and Human Development

School of Social Work

Applying to the PhD in Social Work Program

Applications are evaluated based on potential for independent research and knowledge development in social work. While preference is given to applicants with post-master’s work experience, there is not a set amount or type of experience required, and all of the applicant's previous experiences and career goals are considered.

Useful information about applying:

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Application Deadline: Friday, December 1, 2023

Required Application Materials

    1: Unofficial Transcripts

    Unofficial transcripts from all colleges and universities you have attended (including the University of Minnesota). Please see the Graduate School's transcript instruction page for information on submitting transcripts with your application.

    Applicants must have a master’s degree in social work, social welfare, or a related field, preferably from a school of social work accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Applicants may be enrolled in a master’s program when they apply for the PhD program, but the program must be completed before they begin doctoral studies. Master’s degrees in related disciplines are considered, but students may be required to complete some MSW coursework as a condition for enrollment.

    2: Test Scores

    GRE (not required)

    GRE scores are not required for admission to our PhD program. However, if you do choose to submit them, we accept scores from the last five years. We recommend the GRE for applicants who cannot demonstrate a strong background in research, writing, and statistics.

    The Graduate School has more information about GRE tests and scores, here

    English Proficiency 

    A strong command of the English language is necessary for successful study at the School of Social Work.  International applicants for whom English is not a primary language are asked to take the TOEFL, IELTS, or Duolingo English Test to demonstrate proficiency. For more information on the University's language proficiency test and score requirements, kindly visit this site. 


    3: Curriculum vitae (CV)

    Your CV should list your educational history, including dates of degree conferral, and relevant employment history, including job titles, agency names, dates of employment, and whether jobs you list were full-time, part-time, or internships. Also list your research experience, publications, presentations, teaching experience, leadership experience, service to the community, and any honors or awards.

    4: Personal Statement

    Submit a statement, not exceeding four pages, which explains your research interests and career goals. Please address the following two topics within this document.

    1. Research interests: In this essay, discuss the specific social welfare problems or questions you are interested in researching during your doctoral program. We welcome a broad variety of research problems or questions, including those geared to helping the social work profession better meet the needs of a diverse society. Explain the potential social impact of your research ideas and how your research may contribute to knowledge in the field of social work/social welfare. Also describe your past or present research training or experience and explain anything else you would like us to know related to your preparation for doctoral study. If there is a particular faculty member with whom you wish to study, please give that person's name and explain why you want to study with that person.
    2. Career goals: Describe your overall career goals and explain how doctoral study, research, teaching, and leadership align with your goals.

    5: Writing Sample

    Provide a scholarly writing sample that was written for a public or professional audience. Your sample should provide evidence of your ability to effectively conceptualize and communicate complex ideas and demonstrate clarity, organization, and appropriate use of grammar and style. Scholarly writing samples may include: sole-authored manuscripts, course papers, and papers prepared for academic conferences. If your writing sample was co-authored, please articulate your contributions to the writing process and highlight the portions that you wrote. Informal examples of writing, such as newspaper articles or PowerPoint presentations, are not acceptable writing samples.

    6: Diversity Statement

    Submit a statement, not exceeding two pages, which identifies the distinctive qualities, characteristics and life experiences you would contribute to the School of Social Work. Your diversity statement can include, but is not limited to:

    • Your contribution to student body diversity
    • Your contribution to the doctoral learning community
    • How your research interests relate to diversity issues
    • How your career plans include diversity and equity components
    • Your history of overcoming obstacles to achievement

    7: Three Letters of Recommendation

    Three letters of recommendation are required. Your references should be professionals who are able to comment on your potential for research and scholarly activity. At least one letter, if not two, should be from a current or former professor. At least one current or former professor should have a PhD and speak to your ability to complete a PhD program.

    Admissions FAQ

      All students are required to submit undergraduate and graduate school transcripts, a curriculum vita, a personal statement, a diversity statement, an academic writing sample, and three letters of recommendation. All international students must also take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), with the exception of students who earned an academic degree in an English speaking country.

      We accept Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores and recommend them for applicants who cannot demonstrate a strong background in research, writing, and statistics; however, GRE scores are not required.

      The GRE is only valid for five years. If your GRE is more than five years old, you will need to take it again.

      A master’s degree is required for admission directly into the PhD program. While we do accept people with master’s degrees in other related fields, we strongly encourage applicants to complete their MSW before applying to the PhD program. An MSW provides important theoretical and practice knowledge that is useful throughout the PhD program. In addition, applicants should know that many social work departments will only hire faculty with an MSW and at least two years of post-MSW practice experience, which is another reason why the MSW is valuable for applicants.

      The PhD program is very selective. Usually we accept less than 20% of applicants. Most applications are quite strong, so we have turn away many applicants each year who could potentially succeed in our program.

      Number of students: 5-8
      Average verbal GRE percentile: 75th
      Average quantitative GRE percentile: 65th
      Average analytic writing GRE percentile: 75th
      Average undergraduate GPA: 3.60
      Average graduate GPA: 3.85

      We are looking for students who will be able to conduct meaningful scholarship upon graduation and will eventually become national or international leaders in developing the social work knowledge base and providing academic leadership in the field. Thus, we are looking for people who excelled in their undergraduate and graduate programs, have excellent GRE (and TOEFL) scores, have had meaningful social work or related professional experience, have participated in research projects and publications, have strong critical thinking and writing skills, and have a strong interest in a career centered upon social work scholarship.

      General FAQ

        Students take two years of coursework both inside and outside the School of Social Work, including required courses in research methods, statistics, theory, history, policy and teaching, as well as supporting program courses from across the university. Students typically complete their preliminary examinations and defend their dissertation proposal, and then complete their dissertation in their fourth or PhD fifth year.

        No, the PhD program is a weekday program with courses offered during the daytime. Students should expect to be on-campus at least three days per week, if not more, for at least the first two years of the program.

        There is no formal, part-time program, though some students do work off-campus part-time and complete the program at a slightly slower rate. However, we do not encourage part-time study and give preference to students interested in full-time study and do not provide funding packages to part-time students. Full-time students are better able to engage in all aspects of the program and are more likely to complete the program.

        No, we do not have a combined MSW/PhD program. Applicants must have a master’s degree in social work, social welfare, or a related field, preferably from a school of social work accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Applicants may be enrolled in a master’s program when they apply for the PhD program, but the program must be completed before they begin doctoral studies.

        No. Our PhD program does not focus on developing advanced clinical skills.

        Our program is designed so that students can complete the program in 4 years, though most finish within 4-5 years.

        The PhD program includes two years of coursework, examinations and the dissertation. Please see the PhD Student Handbook for the specific requirements and timetables for completion.

        An MSW program is an advanced professional practice degree geared towards preparing social work practitioners for work in direct practice social work or community practice social work. Our MSW graduates secure positions in a variety of areas, including clinical social work, case management/care coordination, advocacy, community organizing, planning, or leading. A PhD program is a research degree that focuses on the development of advanced research, theoretical and teaching skills. Most of our PhD graduates work in academia or research positions.

        Because of the rigorous demands of the PhD program, most students are unable to work full-time and successfully complete the program. A PhD program should be thought of similarly time wise to a demanding full-time job.