Ph.D. Degree Tracks

Students who enter the Ph.D. program with a master's degree in social work and follow the program's standard course sequencing should be able to complete their degree in four to five years. Students who enter the program without a master's degree must plan on an additional one to two years to complete the program and must select from among the following:

  • Track I: Joint Ph.D./MSW program for students without a bachelor's degree in social work (students complete the equivalent of the two-year master's program while in the doctoral program)
  • Track II: Joint Ph.D./MSW program for students with a bachelor's degree in social work (students complete the equivalent of the one-year master's program advanced generalist specialization in an area of focus; requires that students have a BSW from a CSWE accredited school of social work)
  • Track III: Program for students who do not have a social work degree and who do not want an MSW (requires that students complete MSW generalist foundation courses and a 2-credit internship)

The doctoral program has four special features: an emphasis is given to interdisciplinary research and training that seeks to promote optimal functioning in individuals or families across the life course; it stresses that social welfare problems are best understood in individual, family, community, economic, and cultural context; it conceptualizes research as a catalyst for social action and change; and it emphasizes methodological and statistical training and their applications to studying social problems and processes.

The first two years of the curriculum emphasize methodological, statistical, theoretical and substantive coursework. A variety of social welfare seminars are offered within the school. Students from several departments are invited to join these seminars creating a rich interdisciplinary training environment. Two foundation social welfare research methods seminars cover the fundamentals of research design and implementation relevant to the design and conduct of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research. Application of research methods seminars provide practical experience and application of research knowledge and skills (e.g., proposal writing and data analysis). The social policy and applied theory seminars address specific substantive issues (e.g., poverty, child welfare, family policy), as well as core policy analytics and models of the application of social theory to social problems, respectively. The social welfare faculty research seminar (SOC WORK 946 Faculty Research Seminar, fall semester); and two student research seminars (SOC WORK 947 Student Research Seminar, spring semesters) provide opportunity for professional socialization to the field and development of research interests.

The curriculum is designed to require students to take some courses in departments throughout the campus, based on their individualized learning needs. Students take substantive and research courses focusing on topics related to their specialization. A wide selection of courses in world-renowned social and behavioral science departments is available. Students select an approved social science theory course; two statistics courses (SOC/​C&E SOC  361 Statistics for Sociologists IISOC 362 Statistics for Sociologists III or ED PSYCH 760 Statistical Methods Applied to Education IED PSYCH 761 Statistical Methods Applied to Education II); two substantive elective courses; two statistics/methodology elective courses. Years three and four (or five) are dedicated to the preparation and completion of preliminary examinations and dissertation research.

Prospective students should see the program website for funding information.

Minimum Degree Requirements and Satisfactory Progress

To make progress toward a graduate degree, students must meet the Graduate School Minimum Degree Requirements and Satisfactory Progress in addition to the requirements of the program.

Doctoral Degrees


Minimum Graduate Degree Credit Requirement

51 credits

Minimum Graduate Residence Credit Requirement

32 credits

Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement

All degree coursework must be in graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide.

Prior Coursework Requirements: Graduate Work from Other Institutions

Doctoral students may apply credits obtained in other graduate programs toward the Ph.D. program minimum degree requirement and minimum graduate coursework (50%) requirement.  Graduate credits from other institutions may not be used to fulfill the minimum graduate residence credit requirement.  Coursework earned 10 or more years prior to admission to the Ph.D program may not be used to satisfy degree credit minimums.

Prior Coursework Requirements: UW–Madison Undergraduate

Doctoral students cannot use credits obtained as undergraduate students toward the Ph.D. program requirements.

Prior Coursework Requirements: UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, doctoral students may apply up to 15 credits numbered 300 and above obtained as UW–Madison University Special students toward the Ph.D. program minimum graduate residence credit requirement and the minimum graduate degree credit requirement.  That coursework may not be applied to the minimum graduate coursework (50%) requirement unless taken at the 700 level or above.  Coursework earned 10 or more years prior to admission to the Ph.D program may not be used to satisfy degree credit minimums.

Credits per Term Allowed

15 credits

Program-Specific Courses Required

Contact the program for information on any additional required courses.

Doctoral Minor/Breadth Requirements

Doctoral Social Welfare students are not required to complete a minor.

Overall Graduate GPA Requirement


Other Grade Requirements

The Graduate School requires an average grade of B or better in all coursework (300 or above, not including research credits) taken as a graduate student unless conditions for probationary status require higher grades. Grades of Incomplete are considered to be unsatisfactory if they are not removed during the next enrolled semester.

Probation Policy

The Graduate School regularly reviews the record of any student who earned grades of BC, C, D, F, or Incomplete in a graduate course (300 or above), or grade of U in research credits. This review could result in academic probation with a hold on future enrollment or in being suspended from the Graduate School.


Every graduate student is required to have an advisor. An advisor is a faculty member, or sometimes a committee, from the major department responsible for providing advice regarding graduate studies. An advisor generally serves as the thesis advisor. In many cases, an advisor is assigned to incoming students. Students can be suspended from the Graduate School if they do not have an advisor.

To ensure that students are making satisfactory progress toward a degree, the Graduate School expects them to meet with their advisor on a regular basis.

A committee often accomplishes advising for the students in the early stages of their studies.

Assessment and Examinations

Doctoral students are required to take a comprehensive preliminary/oral examination after they have cleared their record of all Incomplete and Progress grades (other than research and thesis). Deposit of the doctoral dissertation in the Graduate School is required.

Time Constraints

Doctoral degree students who have been absent for ten or more consecutive years lose all credits that they have earned before their absence. Individual programs may count the coursework students completed prior to their absence for meeting program requirements; that coursework may not count toward Graduate School credit requirements.

A candidate for a doctoral degree who fails to take the final oral examination and deposit the dissertation within five years after passing the preliminary examination may by require to take another preliminary examination and to be admitted to candidacy a second time.

Language Requirements

Contact the program for information on any language requirements.

Online applications are available through the Graduate School Electronic Application. Admission to the Ph.D. program requires an undergraduate grade point average of at least 3.00 (on a 4.00 scale) on the equivalent of the last 60 semester credits. Applicants are required to have completed a statistics course; 30 semester credits of social science courses and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores taken within five years of application date; if appropriate, english proficiency exam (TOEFL) scores, taken within two years of application date. Applicants must also submit a statement of reasons for graduate study, three letters of recommendation, official transcripts, a writing sample, and a resume or CV.

Ph.D. program details are fully described on the School of Social Work website.

Knowledge and Skills

  • Acquire a breadth of knowledge of social welfare policies and programs and related bodies of theory.
  • Improve social work and social welfare practices.
  • Conceptualize, develop and analyze innovative approaches to ameliorating or reducing social problems.
  • Identify the causes and consequences of significant individual, family and community outcomes.
  • Apply advanced statistics, methodology, and data analysis for research purposes.
  • Develop new approaches to the analysis of social programs and policies.

Professional Conduct

  • Develop and demonstrate ethical and professional skills necessary for a career as a social welfare scholar.

Additional Learning Goals

  • Teach courses in a program or school of social work.
  • Translate research findings into policy and program practice.

Faculty: Professors Berger (program chair), Brower, Cancian, Greenberg, Kramer, Magnuson, Mailick, Meyer, Robert (school director), Slack; Associate Professors Curtis, Haley-Lock, Moses, Schroepfer; Assistant Professors Glass, Ros Pilarz, Walsh, Xiong